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(2nd LD) Closure of Kaesong complex unilaterally ordered by ex-leader Park: panel

All News 15:26 December 28, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS photo, response from gov't in last 2 paras)

SEOUL, Dec. 28 (Yonhap) -- Ousted former President Park Geun-hye unilaterally ordered the shutdown of an inter-Korean industrial complex last year without proper consultations or a legitimate process, a panel report showed Thursday.

The report was unveiled by a nine-member committee of civilian experts that has been reviewing the previous conservative governments' North Korea policies, including Seoul's closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in February 2016. The panel was launched by Seoul's unification ministry in September.

The Park administration shut down the factory zone, just north of the inter-Korean border, in response to North Korea's fourth nuclear test and long-range rocket launch in 2016. The move put an end to the last symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation.

"It is verified that the closure was decided by the president's unilateral verbal order without discussions or consultations at the official decision-making level," the report showed.

The former government said that the shutdown was decided at a National Security Council meeting on Feb. 10, 2016, right before the announcement. But the report showed that Park made the order two days earlier.

It also said that the closure was a decision that transcended law, adding that even a political decision amid a security crisis should be made within the boundary of law and under legal procedures.

This file photo shows the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the now-shuttered inter-Korean industrial park, just north of the inter-Korean border. (Yonhap)

At that time, the ministry said that the decision was aimed at preventing money generated by the industrial park from bankrolling North Korea's nuclear and missile development.

But the panel said that there is no sufficient information or evidence to support the claim that funds from the complex had been used for other purposes.

"This hampers the legitimacy of the government's decision and limits Seoul's future stance over the resumption of the Kaesong complex," the report showed.

The report failed to clear up speculation that Choi Soon-sil, the now-jailed longtime friend of Park, might have been behind the closure. The former government dismissed the allegations.

Choi was at the center of the corruption scandal that led to Park's impeachment in December 2016 and ousting earlier this year.

The report is likely to rekindle a row over under what conditions the operation of the Kaesong complex could be resumed.

The liberal Moon Jae-in government is seeking better inter-Korean ties and engagement with Pyongyang, though it now focuses on employing sanctions and pressure on the North over its nuclear program.

Seoul said the resumption of the industrial park would hinge on progress in the resolution of the North Korean nuclear and missile problems.

"With implementing U.N. Security Council resolutions on the North, we need to re-open the Kaesong park and to actively prepare for it if certain conditions are met due to changes in the global political landscape," the report added.

The committee, meanwhile, added that intelligence on North Korea should not be politically used, saying that the government broke the practice of not revealing details about defections by North Koreans.

Last year, the ministry announced that 12 North Korean female workers at a Chinese restaurant and Thae Yong-ho, a former diplomat stationed in the North's embassy in Britain, defected to the South.

"The ministry passively made the announcement at the request of Seoul's spy agency. It has been identified that the ministry was not even well aware of intelligence details," Im Seong-taek, a lawyer and panel member, told a briefing.

This photo taken Dec. 28, 2017 shows Kim Jong-su (R), head of a panel of experts reviewing previous conservative governments' North Korea policy, holding a press conference. (Yonhap)

The panel also stressed that the issue of humanitarian assistance should be separately handled from political considerations and civilian inter-Korean exchanges need to be encouraged.

A joint tour program at Mount Kumgang in North Korea has been suspended since 2008, when a South Korean tourist was killed by a North Korean soldier there. Seoul also imposed sanctions banning inter-Korean exchanges in May 2010 to punish North Korea's sinking of a South Korean warship.

The panel's review came as the Moon government seeks to set a North Korea policy that can survive through succeeding administrations regardless of their ideology. It said that South Korea's inter-Korean policy should be made based on public consensus and law and in a consistent manner.

The ministry said it will take into account the panel's policy recommendations in setting its policy on North Korea and unification.

"We humbly accept the panel's review. We will take the necessary steps on reform proposals made by the committee," said the Ministry of Unification said.

A ministry official said that currently, the ministry is not considering issuing an apology or punishing those who were involved in policy decisions under previous conservative governments.


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