World churches body disappointed at fines on S. Koreans for meeting Christians from the North

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)The view of the North Korean sector of the demilitarized zone seen from the South Korean side on November 2, 2013.

The World Council of Churches has expressed disappointment to South Korean President Park Geun-hye over fines imposed on members of the National Council of Churches in (South) Korea who met with their counterparts from the divided North.

South Korea's unification ministry said April 3 it had imposed fines of 2 million won ($1,740) each on those meeting North Koreans without the Seoul government's approval.

Penalties were imposed on Dr. Noh Jungsun, Rev. Jeon Yongho, Rev. Cho Hungjung, Rev. Han Giyang and Rev. Shin Seungmin, all representatives of the South Korean churches Peace and Reunification Committee, said the WCC.

That was after they participated in a meeting with the (North) Korean Christians Federation leadership in Shenyang, China, on Feb. 28 and 29.

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The fines marked the first time South Korea penalized the NCCK for breaking rules regarding the meeting of North Koreans, The Korea Herald reported.

South Korean nationals need approval of their government's when meeting North Koreans. 

The government has not allowed South Koreans to visit North Korea or contact North Koreans following its response to the North's nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch in February.

The pastors said that they had notified the ministry of their contact with the North Koreans after reaching China, which they said had not lead to problems in the past.

In a letter to Park, WCC general secretary, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, recalled that the world churches grouping has actively promoted peace, reconciliation and reunification on the Korean peninsula for more than 30 years, the Geneva-based world churches body said on April 21.

"Through such national, regional and international ecumenical commitment and cooperation, the ecumenical movement seeks to witness to the peace of Jesus Christ and to make visible the unity of the Church in a divided and conflicted world," he wrote.

Tveit referred to a recent escalation of tensions and confrontation on the Korean peninsula.

"It is especially in this situation that encounter and dialogue is even more urgently needed," he stressed.

CRITICISM OF FINES

Tveit criticised the fines imposed on the members of the South Korean delegation.

"We do not believe that penalizing encounter and dialogue between South Korean and North Korean Christians is a necessary or effective measure for reducing tensions and advancing the cause of peace; on the contrary," he said.

"Moreover, such a measure impedes and undermines the longstanding inter-church relationship on the Korean peninsula that the WCC has sought to encourage over more than three decades."

Tveit called on the South Korean government to revoke the penalties, and appealed to President Park "not to close channels of communication and encounter, but to intensify efforts to promote dialogue at all levels."

He expressed the hope that "the cycle of threat and counter-threat can be broken, before the threshold to catastrophic conflict is one day crossed."

The WCC head urged President Park to steer her leadership "away from this precipice, towards peaceful co-existence and an end to the suspended state of war."

South and North Korea are still technically at war with each other since the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

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