(ATTN: ADDS foreign ministry spokesman's remarks and background info in last 4 paras)
SEOUL, April 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's unification ministry said Thursday it has turned down a request by Japan's top envoy to South Korea to meet with Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo, citing the minister's schedule.
The ministry handling inter-Korean affairs said that the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Wednesday delivered the request by Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine to meet with Hong on short notice.
"The ministry told the embassy Wednesday that the minister could not meet with the envoy for several reasons, including his schedule," a ministry official said.
Nagamine asked for the meetings with key officials in South Korea, including acting leader Hwang Kyo-ahn, Defense Minister Han Min-koo and Hong.
The request was made after he returned to Seoul on Tuesday night, nearly three months after he was recalled to his home amid a diplomatic row over a statue of a girl symbolizing the victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery of South Korean women.
Hong had previously met with foreign envoys in South Korea, but this time, Nagamine's request is seen as being rejected as the government took into account public sentiment against Japan's attitude, according to sources.
Tokyo has demanded an immediate removal by Seoul over the girl statue built in front of Japan's consulate late last year in the southern port city of Busan. It claims that the move runs counter to the spirit of a deal between Seoul and Tokyo over wartime sexual slavery.
Upon returning to Seoul on Tuesday, Nagamine told reporters that he was instructed by his government to seek meetings with key officials here including Acting President Hwang for the matter "even right away."
His remarks, however, were seen by some as "inappropriate" given that no advance consultations with his host country had been made at all.
"I think it is inappropriate to make such a remark related to a visit to the head of a foreign country at a time when no bilateral coordination has been made," Cho June-hyuck, foreign ministry spokesman, said at a regular press briefing.
Cho said that the ambassador has asked to meet with Hwang as well through the foreign ministry but noted that it will determine whether to endorse the request after reviewing diverse aspects including diplomatic custom and need for such a meeting.
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