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(3rd LD) Senior official meets Japan envoy over statue dispute

All Headlines 17:52 April 06, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with reports of meeting between the Japanese diplomat and Seoul's presidential secretary for security)

SEOUL, April 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's senior presidential secretary met Japan's top envoy in Seoul on Thursday after the government rejected his request for meetings with the acting president and two ministers.

Officials at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said Kim Kyou-hyun, senior secretary for foreign affairs and security, met Amb. Yasumasa Nagamine for about an hour from 3 p.m., in an apparent show of diplomatic courtesy.

The Japanese diplomat was said to have demanded the immediate removal of a girl statue symbolizing young South Korean women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II from their current locations near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and consulate in Busan, 450 kilometers south of Seoul.

Kim reportedly asked for Tokyo's understanding about the government's inability to do so, noting the statues belong to private organizations, making them private property.

The ambassador originally asked for meetings with Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, Defense Minister Han Min-koo and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo.

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 the statues.

Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine (Yonhap file photo)

South Korea's unification and defense ministries said that they have decided not to take Nagamine's request at the current stage.

The ministry handling inter-Korean affairs said the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Wednesday delivered the request 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.

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.

Whether or when the two ministers would meet with Japan's envoy is expected to hinge on the government's comprehensive judgement, they added.

Tokyo has repeatedly demanded an immediate removal of the statues, arguing they run counter to the spirit of a 2015 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 on 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.

This file photo shows South Korea's Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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