A group of North Korean officials arrived in South Korea on Wednesday to attend an international forum and tour various local facilities.
The five-member delegation is led by Ri Jong-hyok, vice chairman of the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee. They arrived at Incheon International Airport in the evening.
“I am very pleased to step onto the South’s soil at a historic time when North-South relations have entered a turning point,” Ri told reporters upon arriving at the airport just west of Seoul.
On a possible visit to Seoul by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by the end of this year, he said it’s a matter to be decided by the leaders of the two Koreas.
“It’s not an issue which I can address,” he said.
Kim Song-hye, director of the United Front Department’s tactical office, canceled her visit to the South, citing a “personal, unavoidable situation.”
The North Koreans will particiate in an international forum on peace and prosperity to be co-hosted by the Gyeonggi provincial government and the Asia-Pacific Exchange Association in Goyang, north of Seoul, on Friday.
At the international forum, former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, North Korean officials and former South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun are scheduled to give presentations.
On Thursday, the North Korean officials plan to visit public institutions and facilities in Gyeonggi Province, including the Gyeonggi-do Agricultural Research & Extension Services in Hwaseong, about 60 kilometers south of Seoul, the provincial officials said.
Their trip is drawing attention amid expectations that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will visit the South this year for his fourth summit with President Moon Jae-in.
It also came after North Korea abruptly canceled planned high-level talks with the United States last week aimed at preparing a second summit between their leaders.
The Seoul government has ruled out the possibility of an official meeting with the visiting North Koreans. A unification ministry official said earlier there could be unofficial working-level contacts with them, however.
Ri is known for his long involvement in inter-Korean affairs.
He met with South Korean Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang in Switzerland last month on the sidelines of an international conference. (Yonhap)