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(2nd LD) S. Korea OKs additional civilian exchanges with N. Korea

All News 17:18 June 02, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS more background in paras 5,6,12)

SEOUL, June 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's government on Friday approved an additional eight requests by local aid providers and religious groups to have contact with North Koreans over inter-Korean exchanges.

The Ministry of Unification said that it gave the green light to plans by two humanitarian aid providers and six religious groups to come in contact with North Korea as the government decided to revive civilian exchanges with the North.

"The approval came as the government will flexibly review civilian exchanges between the two Koreas to an extent that the move would not hamper the international sanctions regime," Lee Eugene, vice spokesperson at the ministry, told a regular press briefing.

The groups receiving approval included agencies that seek to provide nutrition support and medication to North Korean children, the ministry added.

The approval came after the United States on Thursday imposed more fresh sanctions against North Korea, blacklisting more entities and individuals suspected of supporting Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

The ministry said last month that Seoul will sternly respond to the North's provocative acts, but also believes that long-strained inter-Korean ties will help stability on the peninsula.

The move followed the ministry's first approval on May 26 for a bid by the Korean Sharing Movement to contact North Koreans since the inauguration of the Moon Jae-in administration in May.

The civic group is seeking to send Malaria-fighting materials to North Korea in areas bordering the two Koreas.

The ministry also granted a local group contact with North Koreans for a joint inter-Korean summit anniversary event slated for this month.

The nongovernment group is hoping to visit North Korea to prepare for a joint event to mark the first inter-Korean summit on June 15, 2000.

But the ministry cast a prudent stance over whether it will approve the group's visit, saying that it will take into account the event's purpose and other details first.

"Applications for trips to North Korea will be reviewed after Seoul takes into account their purpose, inter-Korean ties and the international environment," Park Soo-hyun, presidential office spokesman, told reporters on Thursday.

If the joint event is approved, it would mark the first time such a celebration has been jointly held in nine years.

In 2000, then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-il held a historic summit in Pyongyang, producing a landmark agreement on reconciliation and economic cooperation between the two rival Koreas.

During the liberal administration of President Roh Moo-hyun in 2003-2008, civic groups held summit anniversary events in Seoul and Pyongyang. In October 2007, Roh held a summit with the North's leader.

The group called on the government to fully approve civilian inter-Korean exchanges, including its joint summit event.

"The government should unveil measures for better inter-Korean ties and reconciliation if it seeks to honor the spirit of the two summits' agreements," the preparatory group said.

It added that the North hopes to hold the event in Pyongyang, while the group proposed to do so in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

"If Seoul approves our plan, we are considering sending a 100-member delegation to North Korea," it said.

Any trip by South Koreans to North Korea requires the Seoul government's approval, as well as the North's consent. The sides still technically remain in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

(2nd LD) S. Korea OKs additional civilian exchanges with N. Korea - 1


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