Go to contents

Ministries Split Over N. Korea Visits

Posted October. 31, 2006 03:00,   


People are criticizing the Ministry of Unification for permitting 13 senior members of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), including chairman Moon sung-hyun, representatives Kwon Young-gil and Roh Hoe-chan to visit North Korea despite the objection of the National Intelligence Service and Ministry of Justice.

In particular, since two DLP members who are involved in recent incident of contacting North Korea and members who have history of violating National Security Act and being in the watch list for security reason are included in the visiting list, people view that it is abuse of unification minister’s authority to allow them to visit North Korea.

In fact, there is deep cleavage among government departments on this matter. The NIS last week expressed its opposition to DLP members’ visit to North Korea, saying, “We view that it is not appropriate now,” as a response to Ministry of Unification’s request for advice.

The NIS objection is not simply limited to the opposition to visit of certain members who are included on the visiting list. Rather, this is an objection to visiting itself. In regard to this, a source from the government said yesterday, “Even though it is problematic to assume that they are related to the current incident of contacting North Korea, the NIS objection to DLP members’ visits to the North is grounded on the possibility of the expansion of the case investigation and domestic instability caused by North Korea’s recent nuclear test.”

The Ministry of Justice also raised an objection to DLP members visiting North Korea. Kim Sung-ho, Minister of Justice, said yesterday during an inspection of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee in the National Assembly, “Since several DLP members have a history of violating the National Security Act and being on watch list for security reasons, we raised an objection to particular members visiting North Korea.”

However, ironically, after examination of advice from related ministries, the Ministry of Unification permitted DLP members to visit North Korea yesterday, saying, “We have no legal grounds to restrict their visiting.” In fact, whether to allow people to visit North Korea or not is determined by the authority of the Minister of Unification.

In regard to this, a source from the Ministry of Unification said, “People who are either under investigation in relation to the violation of National Security Act and Inter-Korea Exchange and Cooperation Act or belong to organizations threatening national security are only prohibited to visit North Korea,” adding, “Since the DLP is a political party that are protected by institutional boundaries, there is no reason to ban their visiting. We believe that the party members will not do anything humiliating the status as a political party.”

The DLP members left for China yesterday to visit Pyongyang at the invitation of North Korea’s Korean Social Democratic Party. The members are scheduled to stay in four days in Pyongyang from October 31 to November 4 to express worry of South Korea government over the North nuclear test and ask North Korea authority to give up its nuclear initiative.

DLP chairman Moon Sung-hyun made a visit to Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok before leaving for China on October 20 in which Lee asked Moon to call North Korea to return to the six-party talks and expressed worry over the North’s move for the second nuclear test.” As a response, Moon said, “I will deliver this message of our government to North Korea.”

Meanwhile, about 70 college students who belong to the South Korea headquarters for realization of the 6.15 North-South Joint Declaration organized a ‘youth students’ unification group for national self-reliance, anti-war and peace’ and asked the Ministry of Unification to allow them to visit North Korea from October 30 to November 3. The ministry, however, refused the request last week.

In regard to reasons for rejection, a source from Ministry of Unification said, “Given the current unstable relations between South and North Korea, we concluded that it is better for them not to visit North Korea,” adding, “Even though, in past, we often attempted to induce students to give up the plan by themselves, this time, we just the rejected students’ request.”

taewon_ha@donga.com mhpark@donga.com