Published: Fri, March 22, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Seoul says North Korea withdrew staff from liaison office

Seoul says North Korea withdrew staff from liaison office

North Korea is withdrawing from a joint liaison office near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) with South Korea, a key symbol of the rapprochement and ongoing peace process between the two countries.

The North's Unification Ministry said Pyongyang "will not mind the South remaining" in the liaison office.

The government in Seoul called the move "regrettable", and urged the North to return soon.

Pyongyang said the South Koreans could keep their personnel at Kaesong despite the withdrawal.

North Korea abruptly withdrew its staff from an inter-Korean liaison office in the North on Friday, Seoul officials said.

The liaison office was agreed upon at Panmunjom in April and again during high-level talks in June of previous year.

China considers the USA decision to impose sanctions on two of its companies for allegedly violating North Korea sanctions unlawful and a step in the wrong direction in terms of Beijing-Washington cooperation, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Friday. North Korean leader Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in reached an agreement to open the office after their historic summit meeting in April. This is seen as an attempt by the U.S.to punish China for allowing its companies to continue illegal trade with North Korea.

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The latest sanctions showed there was some "leakage" in North Korea sanctions enforcement by China, but it was mostly abiding by United Nations resolutions, a senior USA official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

"North Korea's pull-out Friday from the Kaesong Liason Office has been on cards since Hanoi, given recent no-shows there", he said on Twitter. The Koreas previously used telephone and fax-like communication channels that were often shut down in times of high tension.

CNN on Thursday quoted a senior administration official who said the new sanctions are not intended as additional pressure on North Korea, but rather part of "continuous activity" to "maintain the integrity" of existing sanctions.

Kaesong is also the location of a now-shuttered factory complex that was jointly run by the two Koreas.

Both Koreas want the U.S.to allow exemptions from sanctions to permit the reopening of the factory park, which provided North Korea with much-needed foreign currency.

The liaison office is the first since the peninsula was split into a US -backed capitalistic South and a Soviet-supported socialist North in 1945.

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