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S. Korea to cremate body of presumed N. Korean if no response

June 12, 2023 - 14:07 By Ji Da-gyum
Koo Byoung-sam, a spokesperson for South Korea's Unification Ministry, speaks during a regular press briefing at the Government Complex Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

South Korea said Monday it will cremate the body of a presumed North Korean man found near the inter-Korean border in May if North Korea does not respond to South Korea's offer to return the body by Friday.

"We've requested North Korea to express its intention to receive the body by June 16. If the intention is not confirmed by then, the body will be treated as an unidentified deceased person in cooperation with local government authorities," Koo Byoung-sam, a Unification Ministry spokesperson, said during a regular press briefing.

Koo explained that this is the approach South Korea has taken in the past when North Korea has declined to receive the body of a presumed North Korean national.

The Unification Ministry issued the offer publicly during a regular televised briefing on June 9 after being unable to communicate with North Korea through the inter-Korean hotline. Regular contact between the two Koreas has been halted since North Korea unilaterally severed all inter-Korean communication channels on April 7 without providing a clear explanation.

The ministry proposed that it would return the body and the deceased's belongings at 3 p.m. on Friday at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, in the interest of humanitarianism and intra-ethnic fraternity. The ministry also urged North Korea to respond promptly through the inter-Korean hotline network.

The North Korean side has generally accepted South Korea's proposals to return the bodies of its nationals in the past. Twenty-three presumed North Korean bodies have been returned to the North since 2010, according to the Unification Ministry.

The last known instance of South Korea returning the body of a North Korean national to the North was in November 2019, when a body was discovered in the West Sea.

But there have been no reported cases of South Korea returning bodies to North Korea since the Yoon Suk Yeol government took office in May of last year.

There have also been several instances in which Pyongyang remained silent in response to Seoul's offers. In a recent case last November, South Korea cremated the body of a presumed North Korean woman who was found with a badge depicting North Korea's late founder Kim Il-sung and his son, the late Kim Jong-il. North Korea did not respond to South Korea's offer to repatriate the body, leading to the decision to cremate it.