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North Korea official berated South executives at noodle lunch

By Elizabeth Shim
North Korea official berated South executives at noodle lunch
A waitress carries North Korean cold noodles at Okryugwan restaurant in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Sept. 19, when South Korean delegates met with North Korean officials. File Pool Photo by Pyongyang Press Corps/EPA-EFE

Oct. 29 (UPI) -- A North Korean official in charge of unification policy may have angered a visiting South Korean delegation when he used a derogatory phrase to describe them as they ate lunch at a renowned restaurant in Pyongyang, according to South Korean lawmakers.

Ri Son Gwon, the North Korean chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, represents the Kim Jong Un regime at working-level talks at Panmunjom. In September he joined top South Korean business executives, including Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee at Okryugwan restaurant, South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo reported Monday.

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As the group ate cold noodles, a North Korean specialty, Ri asked rhetorically whether the noodles were "making it down their throats," using disrespectful language to refer to their anatomy, and in a rude tone that would provoke a response.

South Korean opposition party conservative Chung Jin-suk told reporters South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myung-gyun confirmed Ri made the remark before the visitors.

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Cho said Ri made the comments because the North Korean official "wanted to speed up inter-Korean relations."

Ri was also uncompromisingly forthright to a separate South Korean delegation visiting in early October. When the delegation appeared five minutes late to an event, Ri reportedly said "work will not go well," Cho told South Korea's parliamentary committee on diplomacy on Monday.

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The revelations about the exchanges come at a time when South Korea is taking a subtly different approach to North Korea, after months of restraint on hot-button topics like North Korea human rights.

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Cho said Seoul will support the adoption of a United Nations human rights resolution, after Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa expressed the same view earlier, EDaily reported Monday.

The statement is likely to draw North Korea condemnation, and Pyongyang's Rodong Sinmun has already slammed Kang to "come to her senses."

The South Korean military may be concerned about how North Korea is using a naval communication network between the two sides, Yonhap reported.

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South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Park Han-ki said Monday the South has asked the North to cease the use of the communication line to make debatable claims about South Korean vessels on the North's side of a disputed maritime border, according to the report.

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