N. Korea holds off talks on family reunion, Mt. Kumgang tour: Seoul

By 김영원
  • Published : Jul 11, 2013 - 21:15
  • Updated : Jul 12, 2013 - 08:29

   North Korea on Thursday put a hold on its proposal to resume programs to reunite families who remain separated since the Korean War and restart a cross-border South Korean sightseeing tour, Seoul officials said.

   In what appeared to be part of its lately robust peace offensive, North Korea on Wednesday offered border talks aimed at helping to reunite separated family members and restarting South Korean tours to Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort on its east coast.

   South Korea immediately accepted the North's proposal for family reunions, but it suggested that talks on the sightseeing tour be postponed until the current negotiations on reopening a suspended joint industrial complex in the North are completed.

   In a message conveyed through the border village of Panmunjom on Thursday, North Korea accepted the South Korean suggestion that both sides focus on the issue of Kaesong, according to the Unification Ministry which handles inter-Korean affairs.

   "The North said it will accept the South's proposal made on Wednesday to focus on the Kaesong problem," the ministry said in a statement, referring to the joint factory zone in the North's border city of Kaesong.

   The two Koreas have held two rounds of talks in the past week to try to work out details to reopen the joint industrial complex but failed to reach agreement. A new round is scheduled for Monday.

   Seoul is pushing for strong safeguards to prevent another shutdown of the factory zone by the North. It is also demanding a North Korean apology for causing considerable financial and other damages to South Korean companies.

   Pyongyang, on the other hand, wanted an immediate resumption of operations of the industrial complex and insisted that South Korea is more to blame for the situation.

   The industrial zone remains shut since April when North Korea withdrew all its 53,000 workers hired by the 123 South Korean plants operating there. The North cited as reasons for the shutdown joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises and what it called Seoul's hostility toward the regime.

   Millions of Koreans have been separated since the three-year Korean War ended in 1953. A few thousand of them had temporarily reunited. The last time family reunions took place was in November 2010.

   The tours to Mount Kumgang, launched in 1998, has been suspended since 2008 when a South Korean tourist was shot dead.

   Seoul has since demanded the North provide assurances that no more innocent civilians will be hurt, but the North has maintained that the tourist was killed because she entered a restricted area.

    A Unification Ministry source, meanwhile, said that despite the North shelving its proposal for new talks, it accepted the list of South Korean businessmen and support personnel planning to visit Kaesong on Friday to pick up finished goods.

   The 177 people will check on their facilities at the industrial park and see what kind of repairs are needed for normal operations once the two governments work out their differences.

   The visit marks the third day in a row that South Korean personnel step foot at Kaesong after Seoul pulled all of its manpower on May 3.

   The two Koreas are still technically in a state of war, having signed no peace treaty at the 1953 end of the Korean War.

   (Yonhap News)