|Unification Minister Lee In-young waves his hand toward North Korean soldiers observing his visit to the truce village of Panmunjeom, Wednesday. / Joint press corps|
By Kang Seung-woo, Joint press corps
Unification Minister Lee In-young urged North Korea to put inter-Korean agreements into action, Wednesday, and return to negotiations amid a deadlock in bilateral relations.
He also called for an early restoration of consultation channels between the South and North, including a liaison office that was demolished by Pyongyang in June.
Lee's pleas came during his first visit to the truce village of Panmunjeom since his inauguration in July, and days ahead of the second anniversary of a summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, Sept. 19, 2018, during which they signed agreements to reduce military tensions and bolster cooperation.
"Agreement must be kept and they can be completed by implementation," Lee said. "In order to complete the determination of the two leaders and restart the timeline for the South and North, joint efforts between the two Koreas should continue to move things forward."
He added: "I expect the North to respond to our call for the implementation of the joint agreements."
While asking for the North to return to dialogue, the minister also said the Kim regime has fulfilled the agreements to a certain extent.
"Even though it is regrettable that the North unilaterally blew up the liaison office, Kim's follow-up actions such as suspending military action against the South and scrapping plans to reinstall propaganda loudspeakers and send propaganda leaflets across the border were part of efforts to prevent inter-Korean tensions from further escalating," he said, adding that the country has also somewhat fulfilled its military agreement.
Describing the current situation on the Korean Peninsula as military tension-free, the minister unveiled a plan to resume peace tourism.
"When the coronavirus situation gets better, the government will resume tours to Panmunjeom, while trekking programs around the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) can commence as early as October," he said.
"In addition, I hope that we could offer a small-scale reunion of separated families at Panmunjeom."
The two sides last held reunions of separated families in August 2018 at the Mount Geumgang Resort on the North's east coast.
Since the Hanoi summit between the North and the U.S. ended in failure in February 2019, denuclearization negotiations have made little progress and as a result, inter-Korean ties have remained chilly as well because these were are regarded as a subordinate factor by Pyongyang in its talks with Washington.
The minister once again insisted that the South pursue inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation independently of the deadlocked denuclearization talks, which he believes would help trilateral trust between the South, the North and the U.S.
"If we engage in humanitarian cooperation in the fields of public healthcare, quarantine and climate change, separate from any progress in the North-U.S. talks, all three will be able to build mutual trust," he said.
To this end, he expressed hope that the communication channels, including the inter-Korean liaison office, will be normalized.
"The reopening of communication tools will enable the two Koreas to hold frank dialogue," Lee said.