Safety First, Says Seoul Ahead of Talks on N.Korea Tours

      January 22, 2010 09:24

      Seoul will insist that North Korea abides by global standards for the safety of South Koreans working in or visiting the North, a senior government official said Thursday. He said South Korea will take the demand into cross-border talks about resuming package tours to Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong in the North.

      Pyongyang proposed talks about the package tours to Mt. Kumgang for Jan. 26-27, but Seoul is going to suggest a date early next month instead.

      The incommunicado detention of a Hyundai Asan worker for 136 days last year on vague sedition charges makes it clear that the current inter-Korean agreement on travel to the North is inadequate, the official said.

      There are no universally accepted provisions in the agreement concerning safety of nationals overseas and their right to legal counsel or the maximum detention period without charge.

      Park Ki-kap, a professor of law at Korea University, said, "The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 stipulates that foreign criminal suspects have the right to consular access. This convention has become international common law through various binding precedents. We can demand that the North comply with the convention because it is a signatory."

      North Korea clarified the right for staff of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization to confer with a consular officer in case they were arrested or detained in the 1990s, when it signed several protocols with KEDO for the construction of a light-water reactor power plant there.

      Seoul maintains that a new agreement must contain detailed clauses about immunity and safety measures that apply separately for government officials, businesspeople and tourists. A security official said it also needs to be made clear what crimes warrant deportation or detention.

      Since the two Koreas have no permanent missions, Seoul plans to demand that the two sides establish a joint committee to deal with consular affairs.

      A North Korean source said Pyongyang will probably ask Seoul in turn to punish South Koreans who violate the agreement more harshly.

      "The safety of tourists is the most important precondition for resumption of Mt. Kumgang tours," the official said. But he added establishing the facts about the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist there in 2008 may only require an inspection of the scene and, and a promise by Pyongyang will convince Seoul that it is determined to prevent a recurrence.

      In August last year, when North Korean leader Kim Jong-il met with Hyun Jeong-eun, the chairwoman of Hyundai Group which operates the tours, a North Korean official promised, "All safety measures required for tours of Mt. Kumgang will be guaranteed."

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