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Summary of inter-Korean news this week

All News 16:00 May 22, 2020

SEOUL, May 22 (Yonhap) -- The following is a summary of inter-Korean news this week.

Entry screening for Panmunjom tours to be shortened to 3 days: unification ministry

SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- The up-to-two-week screening process required for South Koreans wishing to visit the truce village of Panmunjom on the border with North Korea is likely to be shortened to three days, the unification ministry said.

The ministry has been in talks with the United Nations Command (UNC), which controls access to the border area, to shorten the screening process, an official said, amid criticism it is unfair for South Koreans to go through such a long security clearance process while an average of three days is needed for foreigners.

"Last Friday, the UNC told us it can shorten the period to three days " Yoh Sang-key, the unification ministry's spokesperson, said in a press briefing.

S. Korea postpones joint maritime live-fire drills after N.K. protest

SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has decided to postpone a major maritime firing exercise, initially scheduled for this week, due to adverse weather conditions, the defense ministry said Monday, rejecting allegations the decision was aimed at avoiding angering North Korea.

The Army, the Air Force and the Navy had planned to carry out their biannual live-fire drill off the southeastern coast of Uljin on Tuesday, involving major assets, such as ballistic missiles, combat ships and fighter jets.

But the military decided to put off the maneuvers, sparking speculation officials were overly concerned about possible protests from North Korea, as the decision came after the North's military reacted angrily to a Navy-Air Force joint drill in the Yellow Sea earlier this month.

N. Korea again denies abducting S. Koreans in 1969

SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has denied allegations that it is forcibly holding South Koreans in the country after abducting them in a 1969 plane hijacking, in a letter released Monday by the United Nations human rights agency.

In 1969, North Korea hijacked a Korean Air plane carrying 50 people and redirected it to the communist nation. Of them, 39 were sent back to the South two months later, but the other 11 are believed to still be in the North.

The North rejected the allegations of abductions, claiming the pilots voluntarily defected.

N. Korea faces 860,000-ton grain shortage: unification ministry

SEOUL, May 19 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is presumed to be facing a shortage of around 860,000 tons of grain this year amid worries that the coronavirus pandemic could aggravate the situation, a unification ministry official said Tuesday.

The projection is based on an earlier estimate by a local state-run institute that the North produced around 4.64 million tons of grain last year, which was below the 5.5 million tons widely believed to a minimum amount needed to feed its 25 million people.

"This year, the North will likely face a shortage of some 860,000 tons of grain," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Unification ministry launches 'fake news response' section on official website

SEOUL, May 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's unification ministry has launched a new section on its website featuring "fake news" as part of efforts to prevent the spread of groundless rumors about North Korea and inter-Korean affairs.

It is the first time that a government agency has launched such a fake news section on its homepage. The move came amid growing worries that the spread of unsubstantiated rumors and speculation about the secretive North could cause confusion and instability in society and financial markets.

Fake News Response, which has been in service since early this month, is designed to provide correct information on fabricated news and the ministry's countermeasures, officials said.

S. Korea sees 2010 sanctions on N. Korea as no hindrance to inter-Korean exchange

SEOUL, May 20 (Yonhap) -- A set of sanctions slapped on North Korea over its deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010 has since been softened and no longer poses any obstacle to inter-Korean exchanges, the unification ministry said Wednesday.

Ministry spokesman Yoh Sang-key made the remark as South Korea marked the 10th anniversary of the sweeping sanctions that the South imposed on the North after the communist nation sank the South Korean warship Cheonan and killed 46 sailors.

"Previous governments have taken a flexible approach and allowed exceptions (in implementation of the sanctions)," Yoh Sang-key, the ministry's spokesperson, told a regular press briefing. "A large part of the sanctions has virtually lost its effect."

Unification minister refutes speculation over possible lifting of 2010 sanctions on N. Korea

SEOUL, May 21 (Yonhap) -- Just because sanctions imposed on North Korea following its deadly sinking of a South Korean naval ship in 2010 have mostly lost their effect does not mean that Seoul is considering the possibility of lifting them, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Yoh Sang-key, the ministry's spokesperson, told reporters that much of the sanctions have mostly lost their intended effect and pose no obstacle in expanding "room" in inter-Korean relations, as previous governments have made various "exceptions" in implementation.

He made the remarks as South Korea marked the 10th anniversary of the sweeping sanctions imposed on the North after the communist nation sank the South Korean warship Cheonan and killed 46 sailors, spawning speculation that Seoul might be considering their lifting.

Moon to push ahead with inter-Korean projects despite U.S.-N.K. stalemate: former top aide

SEOUL, May 21 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in will forge ahead with inter-Korean cooperative projects to revive the Korean peace process amid the stalemate in nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States, his former top aide said Thursday.

In an interview with a local magazine, Im Jong-seok, a former chief of staff, also called for a summit between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to break through the current impasse in relations.

"If there is no progress between the United States and North Korea this year, President Moon will try to push ahead to get things done, while sufficiently communicating with the U.S., even though there are negative views," said Im, Moon's first chief of staff who served until January 2019.

Seoul closely monitoring N. Korea as leader out of public view again

SEOUL, May 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is closely watching the whereabouts of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the unification ministry said Friday, as his absence from public view has stretched to three weeks once again.

A swirl of global rumors about Kim's heath and even the possibility of his death came to an end when he attended the completion ceremony of a fertilizer factory with a broad smile on May 1 after a 20-day absence from public view.

Speculation over his whereabouts has resurfaced as he has been out of public view for three weeks.

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