North and South Korean officials met in Russia in late 2019, but energy projects were not considered, according to a local press report. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 9 (UPI) -- South Korean government officials confirmed a meeting took place in Vladivostok between representatives of Seoul and Pyongyang, but denied a gas-fired power plant was discussed during the confidential gathering in 2019.
Newsis reported Tuesday that a source at Seoul's unification ministry confirmed an employee with South Korea's public natural gas company Korea Gas Corp. met with a North Korean person in Russia, and the meeting was "legal."
In the written briefing, the ministry's source said the meetings between the KOGAS official and the North Korean resident that took place in November 2019 were part of "preparations to restart inter-Korean economic cooperation."
On Monday, South Korean opposition lawmaker Lee Chul-gyu disclosed information about the secret meeting. Ri Ho Nam, a North Korean official depicted in a 2018 South Korean film, was allegedly representing the North in the discussions, according to JoongAng Ilbo.
The ministry source told Newsis on Tuesday the gathering complied with sanctions requirements and was conducted in accordance with the South's Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act.
Newsis' source denied allegations made by Seoul's political opposition the South Korean side discussed a gas-powered plant in the Wonsan-Kalma area.
"At the unification ministry, there was no review of the construction of a gas-powered plant in North Korea," the source said.
Inter-Korean economic cooperation remains an important goal for Seoul. Before nuclear negotiations with the North collapsed in 2019, South Korean President Moon Jae-in supported relinking an inter-Korean railway and resuming South Korean tourism to the North.
Moon's summits with Kim Jong Un changed South Korean perceptions of the North, but negative impressions returned after a North Korean decision to demolish the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong.
A South Korean survey of school-age students taken in November shows the majority of respondents say unification is necessary, however.
The survey from the education and unification ministries showed that six out of 10 students said the two Koreas must unify, citing the threat of war, a shared ethnicity, and separated families, Seoul Pyongyang News reported Tuesday.
The percentage of respondents who said unification is "not necessary" also has increased since 2019, according to the report.