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Individual trips to N. Korea to be pursued in consideration of virus fight: official

All News 11:57 April 17, 2020

SEOUL, April 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korea remains unchanged in its push for active cross-border exchanges, including allowing individual tours to North Korea, but such projects should be pursued in consideration of progress in the anti-coronavirus fight, the unification ministry said Friday.

South Korea has pushed for individual trips to North Korea as a way to improve inter-Korean relations without violating sanctions on Pyongyang, but no progress has been made. Making matters worse has been the coronavirus pandemic that led the North to shut down its border.

"Our stance remains unchanged to actively push for individual trips in the hope that that would make it possible for our citizens to visit North Korea through diverse ways so as to expand the opportunity for civilian exchange between the two Koreas," Cho Hey-sil, the ministry's deputy spokesperson, told a regular press briefing.

"But we are looking into relevant trends, including those linked to COVID-19, and such projects will be pursued by sufficiently taking into consideration all related situations," she added.

Expectations are growing that South Korea might seek more active cross-border exchanges with the North as the country's ruling party won a landslide victory in the recent parliamentary elections, which could lend a much-needed impetus for many of stalled projects, including engagement with the North.

Seoul has made progress in containing the spread of COVID-19, with the number of its daily infections standing below 30 for the fifth consecutive days on Friday, which experts said could also provide more maneuvering room for the government to seek cross-border projects.

It is unclear, however, whether North Korea would respond to such cooperative projects amid a deadlock in denuclearization talks and little indication that Pyongyang would lift its border closure anytime soon as it appears to be bracing for a long fight against the pandemic.


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