(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 8-12)
By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, May 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is pushing to revise a law governing inter-Korean exchanges to expand the scope of cooperation and provide more autonomy for municipalities to execute cross-border projects, the unification ministry said Tuesday.
South Korea enacted the "South-North Exchange and Cooperation Law" in 1990 as part of efforts to provide legal grounds for exchanges and cooperation with the North. Demand has since grown for a revision to reflect changed global situations and inter-Korean relations.
"Since its enactment, the law has served as legal grounds to push for exchanges and cooperation between the South and the North, which had been regarded as belonging to the realm of acts of a state," the ministry said.
"The revision is aimed at expanding the scope of contact and stipulating municipalities as one of the major players in cooperative projects between the South and the North," the ministry added.
The move comes as South Korea is trying to expand cross-border exchanges as inter-Korean relations has been almost stalled amid little progress in denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington.
With almost all state-level exchanges coming to a halt, the South Korean government has sought to bolster cooperation with the North through municipalities and civilian groups.
Last year, the government allowed municipalities to independently seek assistance projects for North Korea. Previously, they had to team up with the central government to carry out such projects.
In a related move, the ministry said it is reviewing the possibility of reducing the range of inter-Korean contact subject to regulations calling for mandatory reporting to authorities.
Currently, all inter-Korean contact should be approved in advance or reported to the government afterward, but a ministry official said that demand has been growing for easing such regulations in case of inadvertent meetings on overseas trips or brief reunions or exchanges of greetings between families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
Also likely to be included in the revision would be to make it mandatory to get Cabinet approval for any move to restrict or ban a project with the North, while providing legal grounds that would make it possible to grant help for companies suffering from damage caused by their involvement in inter-Korean economic cooperation, the ministry said.
They apparently reflected concerns over unexpected shutdown of business in North Korea that could incur losses for companies involving economic cooperative projects in the communist state as shown in the case of the closure of a joint industrial park in the North's border town of Kaesong in 2016.
South Korea decided to close the industrial complex in retaliation for the North's nuclear and missile provocations. Many South Korean firms operating there left their assets behind as they moved out hurriedly and sustained losses.
With regard to the envisioned revision, the ministry said it has collected opinions from experts until recently. It also plans to hold a public hearing this week as part of efforts to collect views of the general public.
The public hearing will be held Wednesday online in consideration of lingering concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. The online channel for the hearing will remain open until Thursday to gather public opinions, the ministry said.
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