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N. Korea Expels Seoul Officials from Gaesong

Posted March. 28, 2008 07:33,   


The South Korea government pulled out all of its 11 government officials residing in the Inter-Korean Exchanges and Cooperation Consultation Office, a symbol of economic cooperation between the two Koreas, early Thursday morning upon North Korea’s request.

The North’s demand for the withdrawal is seen as the communist regime’s expression of their strong discontent against the Lee Myung-bak administration’s policy toward Pyongyang. Some political analysts point out that it cannot be ruled out that inter-Korean dialogue and relations will become strained.

Although South Korean officials had withdrawn from the economic exchange office after the North test-launched missiles in July 2006, it is the first time for Pyongyang to request Seoul’s officials to vacate the office. In the past, the officials only left the exchange bureau after the North had pulled out their officials first.

According to the Ministry of Unification, the North made a verbal request at 10 a.m. Monday that South Korean government officials residing in the exchange office leave in three days, taking issue with Minister Kim Ha-joong`s remarks that he recently made to the owners of new companies in the Gaesong Industrial Complex.

In a meeting with business heads in Seoul on March 19, Minister Kim said, "It will be difficult to expand the Gaesong complex, unless the North’s nuclear problem is resolved."

The government, at first, refused to pull out its officials, asking the North to notify the withdrawal in a written order. However, the government eventually pulled out all of its 11 officials there, except for five civilians, at around 1 a.m. on Thursday as the North’s repeated demand for the withdrawal. Among the five remaining civilians, two are facility maintenance workers and three are employees of the KOTRA, the Export-Import Bank of Korea and the Small Business Corporation.

In response, the Unification Ministry issued a statement that read, “We express deep regret over the North’s measure. The North will have to take full responsibility on their unilateral demand for the withdrawal, which contradicts the agreement between the two Koreas. We demand a prompt normalization of the Inter-Korean Exchanges and Cooperation Consultation Office.”

Meanwhile, Cheong Wa Dae said, "The government will deal with the matter in a dignified manner, while trying to prevent unnecessary aggravation of the situation."

"North Korea’s measure is regrettable and may pose an obstacle to the development of inter-Korean economic cooperation," presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said after an emergency meeting of related officials in Cheong Wa Dae.

“Not only a stable legal and institutional environment, but also the North’s change in perception is necessary in order to normalize the operation of inter-Korean projects, such as the Gaesong Industrial Complex, and to promote the participation of South Korean companies in the North” said Lee. "The government will deal with the Gaesong incident in accordance with its pragmatic policy. It will adhere to the principle while taking a flexible approach."

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