North and South Korean delegates exchanged heated words last week at a conference of Asian political parties in Phnom Penh meant to showcase regional unity.
Huh Jungae, a counsellor at the South Korean embassy in Phnom Penh, said in an email that the delegations – both attending the 6th General Assembly of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties – had clashed over the North’s shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island last month, which killed four people.
“They mentioned that their attack is done for self-defence and that South Korea used human shields against attack,” Huh said. The South Korean delegates, she added, had forcefully rejected these claims, calling the shelling “a clear act of crime [that] should not recur”.
“South Korea never attacked nor has taken action against NK,” Huh said. “NK’s indiscriminate attack against civilians cannot be justified.”
Officials at the North Korean embassy could not be reached for comment, though Park Geun, deputy secretary of the North’s Workers’ Party international department, reportedly said on the sidelines of the conference that the Yeonpyeong incident had resulted from Southern provocation.
“We warned several times that we will strike if South Korea tests artillery around the Yeonpyeong area,” Park told South Korea’s Joong Ang Daily.
“We issued a warning on the morning of the event. But South Koreans ignored us and went on with their fire drill. We merely acted on our words.”
In a declaration issued upon the conclusion of the conference, ICAPP delegates from 36 countries urged the international community “to ensure that there is no recurrence of the use of force” between the neighbours.
“With respect to the recent provocation and military action in the Korean Peninsula, the ICAPP General Assembly calls on all parties concerned to immediately defuse the situation through dialogue and negotiations,” the declaration said.
Ek Tha, a spokesman at the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit and local spokesman for ICAPP, said the meeting had not focused on the Yeonpyeong incident and other sources of potential disagreement among the delegations.
“People have their voice, they can talk, but it’s not on the agenda,” Ek Tha said.