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South Korea pondering whether to provide North Korea oil for cultural event

By Jennie Oh
South Korea pondering whether to provide North Korea oil for cultural event
An inter-Korean cultural event will take place at Mount Kumgang before the opening of next month's PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Photo Courtesy of EPA-EFE/Jeon Heon-kyun.

SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- South Korea may decide to ship refined petroleum to North Korea to power an inter-Korean cultural event next week.

A South Korean government official said Sunday that Seoul is currently considering the move as "the North's oil supplies aren't in good condition" but there has been criticism "this would go against the flow of international sanctions on Pyongyang."

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The inter-Korean event on Feb. 4 will likely take place at a cultural center in North Korea's Mt. Kumang region. The facility, which was built by a South Korean firm, runs on a diesel-fueled generator.

South Korea had asked the North to provide the power to hold the concert, according to the government official.

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However, the North responded that it would be difficult as it faces an oil supply shortage and that it is even harder to procure fuel from local sources as the region is unpopulated.

In previous cross-border exchanges held in Mt Kumkang, South Korea provided fuel to operate the generator.

However, with United Nations sanctions imposing comprehensive restrictions on oil flowing into North Korea, "shipping petrol to the North will be harder than before," the official said.

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U.N. Security Council Resolution 2397 caps North Korea's imports of refined petroleum to 500,000 barrels a year.

The amount of oil needed for the cultural event would amount to roughly 10 thousand liters or 63 barrels of oil.

While the move wouldn't breach the U.N. quota as it is still the start of the New Year, it may irk Washington which enforced an all-out ban on refined oil transfers to North Korea last August.

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The Seoul official said the government will closely discuss the issue with Washington before initiating the oil transfer, and that the supplies will only be used for the cultural event, with leftover oil returned to the South.

Regarding the matter, an opposition party member said "By holding this excessive event, our government is putting itself at the forefront of breaking international sanctions," and that such actions "will cause a crack in trust between allied countries."

The pre-Olympic cultural concert will likely showcase North Korea music as well as contemporary and traditional music from the South Korean side.

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Roughly 600 people from the South and North will sit in on the event, which will be the first inter-Korean cultural exchange in more than two years.

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