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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06SEOUL972 2006-03-24 08:33:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Seoul
Cable title:  

ROKG DOWNPLAYS "ABDUCTEE" INCIDENT AT INTER-KOREAN

Tags:   PREL PHUM EAID KN KS 
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INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0349
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RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0432
RUEHUM/AMEMBASSY ULAANBAATAR 1137
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RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR
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RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SEOUL 000972 

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SIPDIS

NSC FOR CHA

E.O. 12958: DECL: AFTER KOREAN REUNIFICATION
TAGS: PREL PHUM EAID KN KS
SUBJECT: ROKG DOWNPLAYS "ABDUCTEE" INCIDENT AT INTER-KOREAN
FAMILY REUNION EVENT

REF: SEOUL 821

Classified By: POL M/C JOSEPH Y. YUN. REASONS 1.4 (B, D).

SUMMARY
-------



1. (C) In retaliation for statements by two ROK journalists
that a North Korean participating in the latest North-South
family reunions had been "abducted," DPRK officials on March
22 refused to allow 99 elderly South Korean participants to
depart the venue for 10 hours. The two journalists were
eventually forced to return to the ROK; in solidarity with
their colleagues, the remaining 21 ROK journalists then also
left. An official from the Ministry of Unification (MOU)
told poloff on March 24 that the ROK did not believe the
incident would adversely affect future rounds of family
reunions, or North-South relations in general. Seoul viewed
the mishap as a result of inexperience on the part of DPRK
staff. Minister of Unification Lee Jong-seok expressed
regret over the DPRK actions, and the ROK intends to discuss
ways to prevent the reoccurrence of such incidents. END
SUMMARY.

BACKGROUND


--------------------------





2. (U) South Korean journalists covering the March 20-25
inter-Korean family reunions at Mt. Geumgang in the DPRK
described one of the North Korean participants, a South
Korean fisherman who saw his wife for the first since being
forcibly taken to the DPRK in 1969, as an "abductee" from the
ROK. In retaliation, DPRK officials on March 22 delayed the
departure of 99 elderly South Koreans from the reunion site
at Mt. Geumgang by ten hours.



3. (U) North Korean officials subsequently protested the SBS
and MBC reports, claiming the two journalists had been
disrespectful of the DPRK regime and falsely accused it of a
crime. They also confiscated taped footage from the two
journalists and demanded they leave the Mt. Geumgang resort
with the group of 99. The reporter from MBC was already
scheduled to leave March 22, but the reporter from SBS was
scheduled to cover the entire six-day event. Officials from
both Koreas met to resolve the situation but could not reach
a compromise until SBS decided to pull its reporter out of
North Korea. The reunion resumed on March 23 with the
arrival of the second group of 436 South Korean relatives of
100 North Korean families.



4. (U) On March 23, the 21 remaining members of the press
corps withdrew to protest the DPRK's interference with their
freedom of expression. According to media reports,
journalists also complained that ROK officials had urged them
to refrain from referring to North Korean participants in the
reunions as having been "abducted" or "kidnapped." Minister
of Unification Lee Jong-seok, however, expressed regret over
the DPRK actions; according to media reports, Lee said "this
kind of attitude from the North is neither helpful to
improving inter-Korean relations nor in line with
humanitarian spirit" and urged Pyongyang to rectify the
situation.

UNIFICATION MINISTRY ATTRIBUTES INCIDENT TO NEW STAFF


--------------------------



--------------------------





5. (C) Director Kim Hyung Suk of the Policy Agenda
Management Team, Ministry of Unification, told poloff on
March 24 that MOU assessed that the mishap was the result of
inexperience on the part of North Korean staff, as well as
the two South Korean journalists. Noting that problems
between DPRK officials and ROK media had occurred in previous
family reunions, Kim said the North Korean officials involved
in the controversy had never had an assignment to
inter-Korean family reunions, nor had they previously
interacted with South Korean journalists. Whereas more
experienced staff would have simply issued stern warnings and
settled the issue more discreetly, the neophytes "went
strictly by the books" and reacted sensitively per
instructions. The fact that the reporters -- who covered
inter-Korean affairs for the first time -- expressed outrage

and demanded freedom of the press increased tensions as well.

INCIDENT UNLIKELY TO STALL FUTURE REUNIONS, N-S RELATIONS


--------------------------



--------------------------





6. (C) Kim downplayed the significance of the event,
asserting that future rounds of family reunions and other
projects between the two Koreas would not be adversely
affected. He was also confident that the recently postponed
inter-Korean ministerial talks (reftel) would resume in
April. Minister of Unification Lee Jong-seok would, however,
raise the issue with his North Korean counterpart during the
ministerial and discuss ways to prevent similar fiascoes.



7. (C) COMMENT: Our MOU contact's explanation is, of
course, an understatement. Officially, the DPRK denies there
are any South Korean abductees or POWs; rather, there may be
a few "missing" persons. For the large segment of population
in South Korea, this is just one more in a long series of
similar North Korean shenanigans. Still, for Lee Jong-seok,
this is the first such incident since becoming the ROKG's
point man for North Korean affairs. His action will be
carefully monitored over the next few days as South Koreans
gauge how far Lee will go to mollify the North Koreans. END
COMMENT.
VERSHBOW