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North-South air route report premature

Posted August. 17, 2000 14:04,   


At the Sheraton Walker Hill Hotel in Seoul on Wednesday morning, Park Ki-Ryun, secretary general of the Korea National Red Cross, announced at the regular briefing session at 9 a.m. the ¡°surprise news¡± that a direct air route over the Demilitarized Zone would open. But Park canceled the announcement five minutes later.

¡°The Unification Ministry said that the (North) Korean National Symphony Orchestra, invited by KBS, would fly to Seoul through the direct Seoul-Pyongyang air route instead of the original plan to come via Beijing on August 18,¡± Park said to about 1,000 domestic and foreign reporters. ¡°The direct route passes over the demarcation line, not the western coast, and it will be the first time to use that route,¡± he said.

The bombshell announcement surprised reporters for a moment because it would have been another milestone in the progress in relations between the South and the North. But only five minutes later, a Unification Ministry official made a correction. ¡°The announcement (by secretary general Park) was made by a mistake,¡± the official said.

Reporters doubted it was a mistake. They speculated that it was difficult to conclude the incident was caused by a slip of the tongue by Park, as Park customarily prepares his announcements in the regular briefings through prior consultations with related government officials.

Some observers believe that the incident indicated that there must be something going on in inter-Korean dialogue. Others suggested that a direct air route would open in the not-too-distant future. There also was speculation that the two governments planned to open a direct flight route on the occasion of the Seoul visit by National Defense Commission chairman Kim Jong-Il.

Actually, chairman Kim expressed his forward-looking position toward the opening of a direct route over the demarcation line during his meeting with chiefs of the South Korean press institutions in Pyongyang on August 12. ¡°Is there any need for the South and the North to travel between Seoul and Pyongyang via the West Sea, as both have no energy and have to import gasoline?¡± Kim said. August 12.