North and South Korea are discussing concrete steps to carry out the Panmunjom Declaration signed by President Moon Jae-in and Chairman Kim Jong-un on April 27.

On June 22, the two countries announced plans for the reunion of separated families at Mount Kumgang from August 20 to 26. One hundred people from each side will participate in the historic event. The last reunion of separated families took place in October 2015. 56,890 families are currently registered in the official Integrated Information System for Separated Families and awaiting the chance to reunite with their family members on the other side. Government officials from both sides will continue to meet in the coming months to work out the details of the August event.

On June 18, the two Koreas also discussed plans for sports diplomacy and decided to hold a mixed-gender friendly basketball game in Pyongyang on July 4, followed by a second match in Seoul in the fall.

Roadblocks for KCTU and Others in Citizen Diplomacy Efforts

While the governments of North and South Korea re-engage, civil society groups in South Korea still face roadblocks as they take steps to resume the cross-border people-to-people exchanges that had been frozen for the past decade under the right-wing administrations of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry recently denied travel permission to five civil society leaders who had planned to visit Pyongyang as part of the June 15 South Korean Committee delegation. (June 15 Committees were formed following the first North-South summit on June 15, 2000 between then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who signed the June 15 Inter-Korean Joint Declaration. Between 2000 and 2008, during the liberal Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, the June 15 Committees for Reunification of Korea served as the main civilian institution for coordinating inter-Korean engagement and cooperation.)

Among the South Korean applicants denied permission to travel to North Korea is Um Mi-kyung, the Chair of the Unification Committee of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). She was turned away while two members of the more moderate Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) were allowed to travel to Pyongyang.

KCTU denounced the Unification Ministry’s decision as “a violation of the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration and aimed at restraining independent cross-border civilian exchange,” and added, “The exclusion of KCTU from the delegation is an apparent attempt to block independent exchange between the workers of North and South.”

The decision to exclude the five delegates was only announced a day before the start of the meeting. And the Unification Ministry offered no real explanation as to how it determined whose application should be approved or denied. All it said was the decision “comprehensively” took into consideration each applicant’s purpose of visit, the nature of the event, and how their visit would “impact South-North relations.”

In a letter to President Moon Jae-in, the June 15 U.S. Committee wrote:

Banning select individuals from visiting North Korea shows that there still exists a “malicious divisive force” within the Unification Ministry and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) — acting very much like the ‘Bolton faction’ within the Trump administration that persistently tried to interfere with the North Korea-U.S. Summit — and such a force has even made its way into the decision-making structure of the inter-Korean engagement process.

 

Civil Society Groups Push Ahead for Resumption of People-to-People Exchanges

On June 20, a fifteen-person delegation of the June 15 South Korean Committee departed for Pyongyang for a three-day meeting with their counterparts in the North and from overseas to discuss plans for people-to-people exchanges.

On June 25, at a press conference upon its return to Seoul, the June 15 South Korean Committee delegation reported the following:

  • The South, North, and Overseas committees pledged to work together to implement the Panmunjom Declaration and ensure the easing of military tensions as well as the permanent elimination of war threats on the Korean Peninsula;
  • The committees will organize joint inter-Korean events on October 4 (anniversary of the second inter-Korean summit between Chairman Kim Jong-il of North Korea and President Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea), and March 1, 2019 (the 100th anniversary of the March 1st Movement, the mass people’s resistance against Japanese occupation of Korea); and
  • The committees decided to meet regularly at the beginning of every year.
June 15 South Korean Committee delegates meeting with North Korean university students. Sign reads -- "Implement Panmunjom Declaration" | Photo source: Min Plus

 

By ZoominKorea staff

 

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