NK run­ning hy­dro­elec­tric power plant near Gae­seong

The Korea Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Yi Whan-woo yis­tory@ktimes.com

Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­is­ter Cho My­oung-gyon said Fri­day that North Korea is sus­pected of run­ning a hy­dro­elec­tric power plant near the now-sus­pended Gae­seong In­dus­trial Com­plex (GIC), amid sus­pi­cion that Py­ongyang is op­er­at­ing some of the fac­to­ries there with­out Seoul’s con­sent.

Cho, how­ever, said there were no clear signs of op­er­a­tions at the inter-Korean in­dus­trial park which has been closed since Fe­bru­ary 2016 when South Korea, in re­sponse to the North’s nu­clear tests, pulled out all 123 com­pa­nies there and cut off the sup­ply of power and wa­ter.

“It’s my un­der­stand­ing that North Korea was run­ning a small hy­dro­elec­tric power plant near the GIC. We learned about this very re­cently,” Cho told law­mak­ers dur­ing a Na­tional As­sem­bly au­dit of the uni­fi­ca­tion min­istry.

He ac­knowl­edged that the gov­ern­ment de­tected sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­i­ties at the GIC around March and April, such as ve­hi­cles en­ter­ing and leav­ing the park.

“How­ever, there were no par­tic­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties prov­ing that North Korea was run­ning the fac­to­ries,” he added.

Af­ter the South’s shutdown of the park, North Korea froze all as­sets of the com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing there in re­tal­i­a­tion. But there have been re­ports from U.S. me­dia re­cently that the Kim Jong-un regime has been se­cretly run­ning 19 cloth­ing fac­to­ries there. Op­er­at­ing the fac­to­ries should re­quire con­sent from South Korea.

Py­ongyang also in­di­rectly ac­knowl­edged the par­tial op­er­a­tion by stat­ing on its pro­pa­ganda web­site Urim­in­zokkiri: “What we do at an in­dus­trial com­plex, where our na­tion’s sovereignty is ex­er­cised, is no­body else’s busi­ness.”

Op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers ac­cused the Moon Jae-in ad­min­is­tra­tion of fail­ing to find out in ad­vance whether the re­pres­sive regime was op­er­at­ing the GIC.

Cho promised to work closely with rel­e­vant coun­tries when Rep. Lee Ju-young of the main op­po­si­tion Lib­erty Korea Party (LKP) raised con­cerns over North Korea ex­port­ing cloth­ing man­u­fac­tured at the GIC in vi­o­la­tion of U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (UNSC) res­o­lu­tions.

“We’re try­ing to find out about Py­ongyang’s ex­port chan­nels for those prod­ucts,” he said. He added that restor­ing inter-Korean ties could be­gin by re-open­ing the GIC, which was seen as a sym­bol of rec­on­cil­ia­tory ef­forts.

How­ever, Cho im­plied that re-open­ing it now would be in vi­o­la­tion of the UNSC res­o­lu­tions. “It only can be re­sumed step by step when the North Korean nu­clear cri­sis en­ters a phase to­ward a so­lu­tion.”

Mean­while, the rul­ing Demo­cratic Party of Korea (DPK) and op­po­si­tion par­ties col­lided over the Moon gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion in Septem­ber to of­fer hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance worth $8 million to North Korea through U.N. pro­grams.

Rep. Shim Jae-kwon of the DPK ar­gued that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has never ceased hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to im­pov­er­ished Py­ongyang re­gard­less of the UNSC sanc­tions.

Choi Kyung-hwan of the LKP dis­agreed, say­ing, “The gov­ern­ment came from nowhere in its de­ci­sion for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid as the world has been talk­ing about sanc­tions and pres­sure on North Korea.”

Re­gard­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate tim­ing in re­sum­ing cross-bor­der di­a­logue, the DPK’s Lee Seok-hyun called on ef­forts to “re-open all pos­si­ble di­a­logue chan­nels,” while the LKP’s Won Yoo-chul called it “im­pos­si­ble” be­cause of North Korea’s nu­clear provo­ca­tions.

Re­gard­ing send­ing a spe­cial en­voy to North Korea to re­solve the nu­clear and mis­sile is­sue, the min­is­ter said, “The gov­ern­ment main­tains the view that it can dis­patch a spe­cial en­voy if nec­es­sary.”

Cho said he is con­cerned about the sus­pen­sion of hot lines and other com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels with North Korea amid height­ened ten­sion on the Korean Penin­sula.

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