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Unification Ministry abolishes inter-Korean dialogue organizations

Ministry to establish new department dedicated to resolving issues of S. Korean abductees, prisoners of war

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : July 28, 2023 - 14:52

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Banner of the Unification Ministry at the government complex building on July 3. (Photo - Yonhap) Banner of the Unification Ministry at the government complex building on July 3. (Photo - Yonhap)

South Korea's Unification Ministry on Friday unveiled its plan to shut down four organizations responsible for inter-Korean dialogue amid the ongoing deadlock in relations between the two Koreas. The ministry will proceed with merging these entities into a single unit, resulting in large-scale layoffs.

The four organizations include the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Bureau, the Inter-Korean Cooperation District Policy Planning Directorate within the Unification Ministry, the Office of Inter-Korean Dialogue and the Inter-Korean Transit Office.

The Unification Ministry will create a unified organization to handle the tasks currently managed by the four organizations. However, the new entity will be based at the headquarters of the Office of Inter-Korean Dialogue in Samcheong-dong, Seoul, as there will be no available space at the Unification Ministry.

The announcement was made by Vice Unification Minister Moon Seoung-hyun, who assumed office in early July, a few hours before President Yoon Suk Yeol appointed Kim Yung-ho as the new unification minister, bypassing parliamentary approval.

The large-scale layoff will affect 15 percent of the current workforce, around 80 members of staff, Moon said, adding that they will be transferred to other ministries.

As of Friday, all six top civil servants at the Unification Ministry have submitted their resignation letters.

The restructuring of the ministry was inevitable as inter-Korean dialogue and exchanges have been suspended for years, and the complex international political landscape has led to growing tensions between the United States and China.

"We have been carefully reviewing organizational reconstruction, aiming to enhance flexibility, competitiveness and efficiency within the organization on the occasion of the concurrent replacement of the minister and vice minister," Moon told reporters at the Government Complex in Seoul.

The restructuring of the ministry, however, doesn't mean that the government is abandoning inter-Korean dialogue.

"We are determined to proceed with the reshuffle to ensure that we can promptly respond if there is demand for inter-Korean dialogue."

Earlier this month, Yoon criticized the Unification Ministry, saying, "Until now, the Ministry of Unification has played a supporting role for North Korea," and calling for a major restructuring. His denunciation came following the unconventional and simultaneous appointments of a hard-liner on Pyongyang as minister and a seasoned diplomat as vice minister.

The Unification Ministry will also establish a new department specifically tasked with addressing the matters concerning South Korean abductees, prisoners of war and other citizens detained in North Korea.

As the new unification minister, Kim has personally taken the decision to launch this new department, Moon said.

The Yoon government aims to restructure the Unification Ministry with a focus on analyzing the Kim Jong-un regime, addressing human rights issues in North Korea and facilitating the resettlement of North Korean defectors.

Moon explained that the ministry has been formulating measures to reinforce the in-house team of analysts and identify key areas of analysis focused on North Korea.

The reshuffle of the Unification Ministry is projected to be finalized by the end of August. The ministry has been in discussions over the major reshuffle with the Ministry of Personnel Management and the Ministry of the Interior and Safety.