Gov't to allow working-level monitors to check N. Korea goods distribution

SEOUL, Oct. 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's government will only allow essential working-level charity group personnel to check the distribution of goods in North Korea, an official said Monday.

The move that bans heads and senior members of charity groups from visiting the North comes as inter-Korean relations have soured after Pyongyang unilaterally postponed family reunions for people separated by the 1950-53 Korean War late last month.

Seoul early last month authorized 12 non-governmental charity groups to send aid to the North to help children and underprivileged people, but some of these groups such as the Korean Sharing Movement and the Movement for One Corea complained over the weekend that the Ministry of Unification has banned some people from going to the North.

These groups said the ban was unexpected because in the past senior members were allowed to go to the North as monitors.

Ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do said Seoul's stance calls for authorizing monitors to make certain goods sent to the communist country are distributed in a transparent manner.

He, however, said taking into account current cross-border ties, it has been decided that only people who can directly carry out the monitoring work will be authorized to travel to the North.

"Only those who are needed to complete the task should go as monitors," the official said. He did not elaborate if such rules could be changed if relations improve down the road.

Kim, in addition, said despite calls by some companies with factories at the joint factory plant in Kaesong, North Korea asking the government to delay the repayment of insurance money they received, it is Seoul's policy to get the money back as agreed upon in the original contract.

A total of 46 companies received 148.5 billion won (US$138.4 million) worth of insurance payments in August and September when it seemed likely that the Kaesong Industrial Complex would be closed indefinitely. After long-drawn negotiations the complex was opened for business on Sept. 16. Of the 123 companies there, 118 have started operations with the remaining five getting ready to do so.

"Businesses knew the provisions in the contract about receiving and repaying insurance money, and it is Seoul's position that they abide by the rules," the official said.

He confirmed that some companies asked for the money to be returned in installments instead of the lump sum as set by the agreement

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