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(LEAD) S. Korean liaison officials will be at work as usual in N. Korea: ministry

All Headlines 20:53 March 24, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES with details)

SEOUL, March 24 (Yonhap) -- Dozens of South Korean officials will head to the joint inter-Korean liaison office in North Korea for work this week despite Pyongyang's abrupt pullout of its staff there, a related ministry said Sunday.

The Ministry of Unification said it has completed consultations with the North's relevant authorities on the entry of the South Korean officials into the compound as usual on Monday.

"They will leave for work normally tomorrow," a ministry official told reporters.

The ministry, which handles daily inter-Korean affairs, has notified the North via a military communication line that 54 South Koreans will cross the border as usual. But 40-50 people are actually expected to do so, a ministry official said.

They include Kim Chang-su, deputy chief of the liaison office.

A photo of the joint inter-Korean liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong taken March 24, 2019 (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

Last Friday, the North's officials left the facilities, saying only their withdrawal was a decision by "higher-ups."

North Korea's intentions were not immediately confirmed, while observers viewed the move as aimed at putting pressure on Seoul in the wake of an unsuccessful summit between Pyongyang and Washington in Hanoi in late February.

South Korea is cautious about resuming full-fledged economic cooperation with the communist neighbor amid a lack of substantive process in denuclearization talks and sanctions relief.

While the North has withdrawn its workers from the liaison office, it has allowed South Koreans to continue to work there.

Water and electricity supplies remain intact as well. The North provides the water from its main reservoir in Kaesong and the South provides the electricity. North Korea's state-controlled media have kept mum about the liaison office issue.

Experts said this suggests Pyongyang does not intend to ruin the reconciliatory mood between the two Koreas itself.

"Given the history, the North could've just kicked us out, but instead they pulled out themselves. Pyongyang is acting cautiously," Choi Yong-hwan, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy, said.
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