Viewing cable 06SEOUL1021
Title: ROK CRITICIZED FOR "APOLOGIZING" TO DPRK TO

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
06SEOUL10212006-03-28 09:35:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Seoul
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DE RUEHUL #1021/01 0870935
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O 280935Z MAR 06
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6965
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0392
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 7216
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0477
RUEHUM/AMEMBASSY ULAANBAATAR 1141
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SEOUL 001021 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
NSC FOR CHA 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: AFTER KOREAN REUNIFICATION 
TAGS: PREL PHUM PGOV KN KS
SUBJECT: ROK CRITICIZED FOR "APOLOGIZING" TO DPRK TO 
RESOLVE STANDOFF AT N-S FAMILY REUNION 
 
REF: SEOUL 972 
 
Classified By: A/DCM JOSEPH Y. YUN.  REASONS 1.4 (B, D). 
 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
¶1.  (C) In the aftermath of the March 22 incident at Mt. 
Geumgang, North Korea -- in which DPRK officials retaliated 
against South Korean journalists' statement that one of the 
North Korean participants in the inter-Korean family reunion 
event was "abducted" by preventing 99 elderly South Koreans 
from departing -- the North Korean press announced on March 
23 that the ROK had apologized for the incident.  South 
Korean media criticized the ROKG, asserting that the ROK head 
of delegation, under instructions from the Ministry of 
Unification (MOU), had issued a statement of regret over the 
use of the words "abductees" and "hostages," thus 
compromising South Korea's freedom of the press to advance 
its engagement policy with the DPRK.  An MOU official told 
poloff on March 28 that the statement was not an apology, 
insisting that MOU had accurately portrayed the statement as 
expressing regret that Pyongyang had constrained normal press 
activities.  A reporter from the Yonhap News Agency believed 
that, with inter-Korean family reunion events declining in 
popularity among journalists experienced in North-South 
relations, similar incidents would occur in the future. 
 
¶2.  (C) COMMENT:  Our contacts predicted that mainstream 
South Koreans would let the issue pass for now, as they were 
increasingly accustomed to a ROKG keen on assuaging the DPRK 
in order to maintain momentum on inter-Korean projects.  The 
public also took for granted that North Koreans were "touchy" 
and had to be handled sensitively in the process of 
inter-Korean engagement.  This could change over time, 
however, as their patience for the North Koreans grew thin 
with more frequent occurrences of such incidents.  Moreover, 
the ROKG and, perhaps unwittingly, the DPRK have effectively 
given the conservative Grand National Party more political 
ammunition in the upcoming local elections through this 
incident.  END SUMMARY AND COMMENT. 
 
BACKGROUND 
---------- 
 
¶3.  (U) On March 22, DPRK officials, in retaliation for 
statements by two South Korean journalists that a North 
Korean participant in the first part of the March 20-25 
inter-Korean family reunions had been "abducted," or "held 
hostage," refused to allow 99 elderly South Korean 
participants to depart the venue for ten hours until the ROK 
news outlets decided to pull the reporters out (reftel).  The 
DPRK's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) subsequently 
announced on March 23 that Pyongyang had agreed to continue 
with the second part of the family reunions in consideration 
of the ROKG's written acknowledgement of the "wrongdoings" of 
the South Korean reporters.  The conservative Chosun Ilbo 
daily and other major South Korean news outlets immediately 
followed up with scathing articles asserting that the 
Ministry of Unification (MOU) had instructed Kim Jang-bae, 
the South Korean head of delegation, to apologize in writing 
 
in an obvious step to appease the DPRK.  By doing so, the 
ROKG had compromised the freedom of the press guaranteed in 
the South Korean constitution, as well as its principles as a 
democratic government, the press charged. 
 
¶4.  (U) MOU Spokesperson Yang Chang-seok, in a March 24 press 
statement, denied that the ROKG had apologized to the DPRK. 
According to Yang, MOU instructed Kim to express regret on 
behalf of the government that the DPRK had constrained normal 
press activities for the family reunion, and that the event 
could not proceed smoothly.  The expression of regret did not 
contain the words "wrongdoings" or "apology." 
 
PRESS UNMOVED BY MOU'S EXPLANATION 
---------------------------------- 
 
¶5.  (SBU) Jang Yong Hoon, Inter-Korean Affairs Desk Reporter 
for the Yonhap News Agency, told poloff on March 27 that 
MOU's explanation, while plausible, did not hold much water 
with the conservative South Korean press.  To most 
 
journalists, such efforts by the ROKG to appease the DPRK 
harkened back to the 2003 Daegu Universiad Games, when 
President Roh Moo-hyun issued a statement of regret to 
persuade DPRK participants to return to the games after they 
threatened a boycott to protest the burning of the DPRK flag 
by some South Koreans. 
 
SEOUL DESPARATE TO GET 99 ELDERLY OUT OF MT. GEUMGANG 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
 
¶6.  (C) In a separate meeting on March 28, Kim Jung-ro, 
Deputy Director of International Cooperation, MOU, told 
poloff that his ministry had assessed the situation as urgent 
enough to warrant a written statement of regret.  Neither 
Minister Lee Jong-seok nor other senior ministry officials 
would accept the possibility of having 99 elderly ROK 
citizens stuck at Mt. Geumgang while the two governments 
bickered over the incident.  In MOU's calculus, the safe 
return of the 99 South Koreans took precedence over any other 
issue.  Kim, underscoring that the ROKG had not apologized to 
the DPRK, stressed that the KCNA announcement had completely 
mischaracterized the ROK's written statement. 
 
MORE RELATED INCIDENTS LIKELY, MOU TO DISCUSS AT TALKS 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
 
¶7.  (C) Both Kim and Jang lamented that the incident could 
have been avoided had the media outlets dispatched veteran 
reporters to cover the family reunion.  Noting that 
experienced journalists increasingly distanced themselves 
from the family reunion events as they were no longer 
considered novel or newsworthy, Jang believed similar fiascos 
involving DPRK officials and South Korean press would 
continue unless both Koreas took preventive measures.  As a 
democratic government, however, the ROK had few options, 
since it could not force news outlets to limit themselves to 
dispatching experienced reporters, nor could it aggressively 
"coach" the new journalists.  Nevertheless, said Kim, MOU Lee 
Jong-seok planned to discuss the issue seriously with his 
DPRK counterpart at the next round of inter-Korea ministerial 
talks. 
MINTON