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Seeking NK’s compensation for liaison office demolition 'would be difficult'

Unification Minister nominee Lee In-young speaks to reporters after arriving at the Office of Inter-Korean Dialogue in Seoul earlier this month, to prepare for his parliamentary confirmation. (Yonhap)
Unification Minister nominee Lee In-young speaks to reporters after arriving at the Office of Inter-Korean Dialogue in Seoul earlier this month, to prepare for his parliamentary confirmation. (Yonhap)

Unification Minister nominee Lee In-young condemned the demolition of the joint liaison office by North Korea last month as “irrational,” but said it would be difficult to seek compensation from Pyongyang, a document showed Monday.

“The North’s demolition of the joint liaison office is against the Panmunjom Declaration and the agreement for the operation of the liaison office,” he said in a written answer submitted to the Assembly ahead of his confirmation hearing, slated for Thursday. “The North’s bombing (of the office) is unprecedented in inter-Korean relations and irrational and should have not happened.”

But he said it would be difficult to hold North Korea liable for damages. “It is clear that we have to consider many methods to seek damages. But due to the distinctiveness of inter-Korean relations, resolving the problem through judicial proceedings, such as claiming damages, is limited.”

Last month, Pyongyang publicly blew up an inter-Korean liaison office set up in 2018 in the border town of Kaesong. The office, built to foster exchange and communication between the two Koreas, is said to have cost South Korean taxpayers around 18 billion won ($14.97 million) to build and renovate. Since its demolition, there have been increasing calls to sue North Korea for damages.

Lee identified the launch of anti-North Korea leaflets by North Korean defector-led groups here and dissatisfaction with the failure to implement the inter-Korean agreements as the main reasons behind the North’s action.

He stressed that the practice of sending anti-North Korea leaflets needed to stop, considering the serious danger to the lives, safety and property of residents in border areas. He vowed to take steps to make that happen, including introducing a law banning the leaflets.

“The government will work to resume the inter-Korean talks as soon as possible, in order to resolve the issue,” he added.

The Unification Ministry on Monday reiterated Lee’s stance that it had examined various ways to claim damages from North Korea. But due to the unique nature of inter-Korean relations, it would be difficult to do so.

To break the impasse in the chilly inter-Korean relations, the nominee stressed the need to expand cross-border cooperation, including in the areas of public health and medicine, “on our own judgment” -- meaning independently of the US.

He also called for the two Koreas to expand the exchange of human and material resources, such as by allowing trade on a small scale, and by the South allowing “individual visits” to North Korea.

Lee also vowed to resume tours to Kumgangsan and pursue inter-Korean family reunions this year for people separated by the Korean War.

Earlier this month, President Moon Jae-in nominated Lee, a four-term lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, as unification minister. The previous minister, Kim Yeon-chul, resigned last month over the frayed state of inter-Korean relations. Lee’s confirmation hearing is set to take place at the National Assembly on Thursday.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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