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Ministry declines to confirm Seoul’s proposal on liaison office officials

Seoul’s Ministry of Unification on Tuesday declined to confirm media reports claiming that the South has asked the North to grant diplomatic immunity to South Korean officials to be stationed in the joint liaison office in North Korea.

The two Koreas reaffirmed at high-level talks held Friday a plan to open a liaison office in the North’s border city of Kaesong “at an early date.” The talks aimed to hammer out details in implementing agreements reached at the April 27 inter-Korean summit. 

Kaesong industrial complex (Yonhap)
Kaesong industrial complex (Yonhap)

“It is true that operation-related proposals were made but we have not yet started consultations with the North on the matters,” a ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

“It will not be long until the opening of the office, so things will be clarified soon.”

Seoul plans to station its officials at the office to keep communication channels open around the clock to strengthen cross-border ties.

The ministry official said that the South’s proposal addressing operational details of the liaison office was delivered to the North at the high-level meeting, but deemed the reports as “speculative” in nature.

Local media outlets, citing unnamed sources, said earlier in the day that the Seoul government has submitted requests to Pyongyang to grant immunity from arrest and detention for officials stationed at the office, in a manner similar to the privilege granted to diplomats by the Vienna Convention.

Guarantee of safety of passage and communications for the officials, and exemption from bag checks were also included in the proposal, according to sources.

Critics say that the previous agreement inked in 2013 to protect South Korean officials working at the now-defunct Kaesong industrial park lacks clear grounds for Seoul to ask for their citizens’ return in case of their arrest or detention.

It states that both the South and North guarantee safety of passage, communication, personal security, and entering the area with baggage and cellphones at the level of a “head of each country’s delegation,” though it did not elaborate on what was meant by “head of delegation.”

Meanwhile, South Korea is preparing to dispatch an advance inspection team to a joint liaison office near the border, the ministry official said.

The official said that details such as the date of the visit and a roster for the team have yet to be finalized. The South and North agreed during Friday’s talks to dispatch an advance team before June 15.

Kaesong is a border city in North Korea where the now-defunct joint industrial complex launched in 2004.

South Korea shut down its operations there in early 2016 over the North’s relentless military provocations and pursuit of nuclear power.

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

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