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Seoul to boost inter-Korean civilian exchanges

South Korea said Friday it will help spur civilian exchanges with North Korea to mark the 70th anniversary of their liberation from Japan's colonial rule.

The Ministry of Unification said it will encourage civilian groups to boost inter-Korean exchanges in such areas as culture, sports and history to help "restore national unity and open channels for cooperation."

"Seoul expects that more exchanges and cooperation will pave the way for broadening mutual understanding and improving inter-Korean relations," said a ministry official, asking not to be named.

He said that private groups have made more requests for inter-Korean exchanges as a joint military drill between South Korea and the United States ended last week.

Inter-Korean exchanges have been suspended since 2010, when Seoul imposed punitive sanctions on North Korea by banning economic and cultural exchanges to punish the North's torpedoing of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March of that year.

On April 17, Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo voiced hope that strained inter-Korean relations will begin to thaw in the near future. The North has not responded to Seoul's offer for dialogue, citing the joint exercise between Seoul and Washington.

The ministry said it will actively support inter-Korean cultural and sports exchanges at various levels, in which more people-to-people contacts can be expected.

The government also plans to push for joint commemorative projects with North Korea in those areas in the landmark year.

Last week, the ministry unveiled plans to hold a soccer game and "ssireum," or traditional Korean wrestling matches, with Pyongyang.

Other projects being pursued include performances involving musicians from the two Koreas and academic events, as well as an ongoing program to publish a joint dictionary of their language.

Seoul will also permit journalists to visit North Korea to cover a variety of events to be pursued by civilian groups, the official said.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, as well as the division of the two Koreas.

It also marks the 15th anniversary of the June 15 joint declaration signed during the first inter-Korean summit between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The ministry will also allow more private organizations to increase humanitarian assistance to North Korea by easing standards for donor eligibility and expanding the scope of aid.

As part of such efforts, Seoul plans to tap more inter-Korean cooperative funds to support people-to-people exchanges.

(Yonhap)
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