Back To Top

S. Korean pro-unification civic group to visit N. Korea

South Korea said Thursday it will allow the country’s major pro-unification civic group, chaired by a son of late President Kim Dae-jung, to visit North Korea next week to discuss with its North Korean counterpart cross-border cooperation and exchange.

Five members of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation including Kim Hong-gul, head of the group, will visit Pyongyang from Monday to Thursday, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Unification. 

Kim Hong-gul, head of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation. (Yonhap)
Kim Hong-gul, head of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation. (Yonhap)

Though details of the purpose of the visit were not mentioned, a South-North joint project that aims to recover and retrieve the remains of Korean victims of forced labor under the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, is expected to be raised as a key agenda item in talks with the North.

Last month, Kim revealed at a press conference that the group has been in contact with North Korea since the beginning of the year -- in tandem with the start of the inter-Korean thaw -- to conduct a joint project retrieving the remains in Japan.

The civic group received an invitation from the North on July 2, according to Kim.

“The central agenda is the South and North’s joint efforts to bring home remains of forced laborers that are still in Japan,” Kim told reporters in June.

The specific number of sets of remains in Japan is unknown, but Kim said the retrieval project may kick-off with about 2,200 sets of remains that are located around Japanese temples. The project will also involve pro-North Korean organizations in Japan, including the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, known as Chongryon, and some Japanese civic organizations, he added.

Kim Hong-gul is the youngest son of late President Kim Dae-jung, who held the first inter-Korean summit with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000 and whose legacy includes the Sunshine Policy of engaging with the communist neighbor.

Historians say millions of Koreans were mobilized into forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule.

Regarding the prospect of the project, experts pointed out that though there is a high possibility that it will take shape, risks continue to exist.

“With Kim Hong-gul (as late President Kim Dae-jung’s son) being involved in the project, the project is likely to win relatively smoother cooperation from North Korea,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

“But such joint projects also have the risk of being abruptly canceled, when North Korea feels dissatisfied with progress in economic incentives or cooperation with the US and South Korea or with denuclearization in general,” he added.

By Jung Min-kyung (