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Amid thawing ties, local governments push for reconciliatory projects with North

A rapid thawing in inter-Korean relations brought about by the two Korea's agreement to hold a summit between their leaders is prompting South Korean regional governments to move ahead with a slew of projects to promote exchanges with North Korea.

Last year, the North continued to take provocative actions with its nuclear and missile development programs, heightening tensions on the Korean Peninsula amid international warnings and UN.

sanctions. But inter-Korean relations have rapidly improved following North Korea's sudden diplomatic outreach in recent months, starting with its decision to take part in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics hosted by South Korea in February.

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

The summit talks that South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are set to hold on Friday are expected to further facilitate cross-border exchanges in various sectors, including sports, culture and the economy, that had been stalled under the previous governments led by Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye.

The Gangwon provincial government in South Korea's northeast region, which has taken the lead in promoting inter-Korean exchanges despite escalating cross-border tensions, will take part in a youth football tournament that is scheduled to take place on June 26-29 in Pyongyang.

Also known as the Ari Sports Cup, the U-15 football event was inaugurated in Yeoncheon in the South's Gyeonggi Province in 2014 featuring six teams from four nations. The second and third editions were staged in Pyongyang in August 2016 and December last year, respectively. Gangwon Gov. Choi Moon-soon will make a visit to the North to take part in the football event.

The North Chungcheong provincial government in the country's central region is drawing up a plan to invite the North to this year's World Firefighters Games, a major international sporting event for firefighters to be held in the central city of Chungju.

The Sept. 10-18 games, also known as the "mini-Olympics for firefighters," are expected to bring together about 6,000 full-time, volunteers, industrial, military fire service personnel and their families from 50 countries worldwide.

On Tuesday, officials at the regional government discussed an action plan on the invitation at a meeting of the inter-Korean exchange and cooperation committee and decided to confer with the Unification Ministry handling inter-Korean affairs to push ahead with the project.

They are also planning to propose that the two Koreas form a unified team for next year's World Martial Arts Masterships, an international martial arts competition to be hosted by the central city.

The Iksan muncipal government located in the country's southwestern region has said it will push ahead with a plan to have North Korea send a team of athletes and disabled athletes to a national athletic meet to be held in October in the city.

Iksan Mayor Jung Hun-yul expressed hope that participation in the athletic event by the North, if it takes place, will elevate the October sports gathering to an opportunity to enhance inter-Korean reconciliation, saying, "We are talking to the Korean Sports and Olympic Committee, the Culture, Sports and Tourism Ministry and the Unification Ministry on the matter."

The southwestern city of Gwangju is mulling a plan to invite North Korean artists as observers to the Gwangju Biennale scheduled for Sept. 7-Nov. 11 and to hold a special exhibition on North Korean culture during the biennale, Asia's biggest event of its kind.

The regional government in Gyeonggi Province, which borders the North on the country's western section, has allocated a budget of 1 billion won (around $0.9 million) for a set of projects including academic exchanges with the North that center on the study of Park Ji-won, a pragmatic scholar of the 18th century. Park's tomb is located in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, which was the capital of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

The city of Incheon, west of Seoul, is pushing ahead with a project to hold an international academic conference in which historians of the two Koreas will participate to mark the 1,100th anniversary of the ancient kingdom's founding. Another project being contemplated by the city calls for historians from the two Koreas to inspect the ruins of palaces and castles in Kaesong and Gangwha Island off Incheon, to which the Goryeo Dynasty relocated its capital from Kaesong in the face of a Mongolian invasion.

One of the inter-Korean economic projects spearheaded by the Gyeonggi provincial government is the planned enactment of a law aimed at establishing a special economic zone on a site of 3.3 million square meters near the border with the North. The Unification Special Economic Zone, if established, is to serve as a home to the second version of a joint industrial complex in Kaesong.

The South Jeolla provincial government in the country's southwestern region, which dedicated a fermented soybean plant in Pyongyang in October 2007, plans to support a project to build a second plant to produce fermented soybeans.

The city of Jecheon in the country's central region hopes to resume a project to build an apple and peach orchid in Goseong off the North's east coast. The project was suspended in May 2010 when the South came up with a set of measures to impose sanctions against the North to punish the North for the sinking of a South Korean warship.

In March 2004, Jecheon established a farm in the North for the first time among South Korean regional governments, holding Jecheon apple festivals in 2006 and 2007 at North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort.

The North Gyeongsang regional government in the country's southeastern region is considering a project to help the North produce two crops of onions. In case the project materializes, the municipality will provide the North with farm machines and glass greenhouses and send a team of experts to the North.

The regional government in South Jeolla Province, which has the South's southernmost town of Haenam, is looking forward to reviving a humanitarian project to send seaweed and rice to mothers and impoverished people in North Hamgyong Province, the North's northernmost province.

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon championed the project in 2015 when he served as the province's governor.

The municipalities of Gangwon, Gyeonggi and Incheon have made a proposal to the North to jointly take quarantine measures against malaria. The North has yet to reply to the proposal.

Last month, the Unification Ministry gave the green light to a plan by the Gangwon provincial government to exterminate insect pests on pine trees in the North.(Yonhap)
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