NATIONAL

S. Korea's team crosses into N. Korean border town to prepare for liaison office

By Jung Min-kyung
  • Published : Jun 19, 2018 - 10:47
  • Updated : Jun 19, 2018 - 15:57

South Korean officials and private businesses visited North Korea on Tuesday to prepare for the renovation of key facilities for the opening of a joint liaison office in the North’s border city of Kaesong. 

Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung (center) answers reporters at the South and North Korean customs, immigration and quarantine office, June 8, before leaving for Kaesong to inspect facilities for a planned inter-Korean liaison office. (Yonhap)

Setting up a joint liaison office was an agreement reached at the summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un on April 27 at the truce village of Panmunjeom.

The 17-member delegation crossed the military demarcation line dividing the two Koreas around 8:31 a.m., according to a Unification Ministry official who requested anonymity. The initial planned timing had been 10 a.m.

The team included officials from the Ministry of Unification, the Kaesong Industrial District Foundation, and Hyundai Asan, the inter-Korean business arm of conglomerate Hyundai Group.

After making preparations for renovations and repair of key facilities, the team had planned to return home at 5 p.m. They will revisit Kaesong in a similar manner Wednesday.

Regarding the follow-up itinerary, the ministry official told a group of reporters that officials and a construction crew plan to temporarily live in Kaesong to work on the repair.

The trip came after South Korea dispatched an advance team led by Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung to Kaesong for an on-site inspection on June 8. They had discovered that some of the buildings that serve as facilities for operation and lodging for stationed officials required extensive repair.

In a high-level officials’ meeting on June 1, the two Koreas agreed to establish the liaison office “at an early date” and the South delivered a proposal regarding the joint operation, according to the Unification Ministry.

The South also requested that North Korea grant immunity from arrest and detention for its officials to be stationed at the office, just as the Vienna Convention grants such privilege to diplomats. It also proposed that the North guarantee safety of passage and communications for its officials, while exempting them from checks on bags and pouches.

The North’s response to the proposal has yet to be revealed.

Kaesong is the site of a now-shuttered joint industrial complex, which was launched in 2004 and operated on a unique business model, combining South Korea’s capital with the North’s cheap labor.

However, South Korea ordered its people to evacuate the complex over escalating border tensions in 2016 following military provocations by the North.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)