N. Korea appears to signal resumption of inter-Korean relations

Posted on : 2008-10-29 13:15 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
North’s request for supplies to repair military communication network are being interpreted by the South as positive

At Monday’s meeting between North and South Korean working-level military officials, North Korea raised the issue of supplying materials and equipment for an existing military communication network as much and as forcefully as its demands for the cessation of leaflet distribution to North Korea, the Ministry of Unification has revealed. Discussion and continuous cooperation between North and South Korean authorities at the working level are needed to resume the supply of materials and equipment for the communication network, which was discontinued following the shooting death of a tourist at Mount Geumgang (Kumgang) last July. The analysis emerging within and outside the government is that this may be the North’s signal of a restoration of relations between North and South Korean authorities.

In a briefing Tuesday, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said, “The North did not favor any one side in its demands regarding the supply of military communication materials and equipment and the ‘leaflet’ issue in the working-level military meeting.”

Another Unification Ministry official said, “The two issues were brought up in equal measure,” and added, “The North placed considerable significance upon the materials and equipment issue.”

The government is noting the fact that North Korea may have indicated its intentions of restoring channels of discussion between North and South Korea through its request for the supply of materials and equipment, as dialogue between authorities may resume naturally through the process of discussions and cooperation over the supply issues. The government is therefore planning to make a decision soon on whether to resume supplying materials and equipment through discussions with related ministries and offices. “We are listening to everything North Korea says when they ask us to please send the supplies before the winter,” Kim said, adding that it might be interpreted as asking for quick delivery because of an urgent situation. This is being read as suggesting that a decision will be made as soon as possible.

However, there is also the possibility of opposition arguments arising in the governmental discussion process. In particular, indications are emerging around Cheong Wa Dae that Pyongyang’s repeated criticism of President Lee Myung-bak may become an issue. “We have to grasp North Korea’s intentions precisely and harmonize the opinions within the government. Now is not a situation where we can decide to send the supplies or not,” said one official.

South Korean organized an inter-Korean cooperation fund at Pyongyang’s request last May, sending some materials and equipment to improve the communication network in the West Sea region for a period beginning in June before stopping. North Korea had been dealing with the inconvenience of having to route communications for managing transit to and from the Gaeseong (Kaesong) Industrial Complex through the network in the East Sea region due to the poor quality of the West Sea network. Former Deputy Unification Minister Lee Bong-jo said, “Because the government has clarified a keynote of ‘separating the Geumgang-san incident and other inter-Korean relations,’ there is no great burden in resuming the supply of materials.” Lee added, “We should take this in a broader view and use it as a positive opportunity to restore inter-Korean relations.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the North Korean delegation to the military talks made repeated warnings Tuesday against the continued distribution of leaflets to the North by private South Korean groups, saying, “Decisive practical measures will follow in matters such as the Gaeseong Industrial Complex.” Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said, “Through a discussion among related ministries and offices on Monday, the government came to share the understanding that the leaflet distributions must be stopped, in consideration of various agreements between North and South Korea.” He added, “A decision has been made to take necessary measures toward the private groups in question, including requests for cooperation, according to the law and principle.”

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