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(2nd LD) N. Korean officials return to liaison office: official

North Korea 15:09 March 25, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS quotes, background, photo)
By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, March 25 (Yonhap) -- North Korea restored some personnel to an inter-Korean liaison office in its border city of Kaesong on Monday, a unification ministry official said, just three days after the regime withdrew all its staff from there.

Four or five North Korean officials returned to the office earlier in the day and held a meeting with their South Korean counterparts, according to the ministry official.

"The North Koreans said that they came down (to the liaison office) to take their shift as usual," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity. "Accordingly, the representatives of liaison officers (of the two Koreas) held a meeting in the morning and plan to operate (the office) as usual."

"They said that the North's commitment remains unchanged for the liaison office to carry out projects in line with the North-South joint declarations," he said, apparently referring to the agreements that their leaders reached in their three summits last year.

He still cautioned that it remains to be seen whether the operation of the liaison office has fully returned to normal as the number of North Korea officials sent there is just half of the ordinary level.

The joint liaison office in Kaesong (Yonhap)

On Friday, North Korea abruptly pulled its staff from the liaison office, saying that the decision was based on an order from "higher-ups." It did not provide clear reasons for the withdrawal.

Experts and analysts said the pullout appears to be designed to pressure Seoul to do more to persuade the United States to lower its demands in the stalled denuclearization negotiations.

Monday's return of North Korean liaison staff came after U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that he ordered the withdrawal of new sanctions on North Korea, possibly signaling an intention to continue denuclearization negotiations with the regime.

The two Koreas opened the office in September last year to foster their cross-border exchanges and reduce tensions by keeping a communications channel open at all times. It was a follow-up to an agreement their leaders reached in April.


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