Seoul on Friday urged Pyongyang to accept its proposal for reunions of separated families, expressing its intention to discuss the restarting of lucrative tours to a North Korean mountain resort.
The North rejected Seoul’s offer of talks on Thursday, citing as hurdles South Korea-U.S. military drills, the cold weather and lack of preparation time ahead of the gathering timed for Lunar New Year’s Day later this month.
“We once again urge North Korea not to call for humanitarian projects using words alone but to display a sincere attitude toward our proposal if it truly hopes for better inter-Korean relations,” Unification Ministry spokesperson Kim Eui-do said at a news briefing.
“The reunions mean not only the path to heal the wounds of aging members of the separated families but also a first step to improved inter-Korean relations.”
In particular, Kim expressed the government’s willingness for talks to resume tours to Mount Geumgangsan in more than five years, and plans to expand humanitarian assistance to the impoverished neighbor this year.
While snubbing the reunion offer, the North said the event may take place later “in a good season” should the South agree to confer on “issues of our concern,” referring to the tour project.
“As the two Koreas consult on their schedules, offers may be made regarding the tour program and then discussions would be possible over the matter,” Kim said.
But he stressed that for the tour to be restarted, the North should clear lingering concerns over the safety of South Koreans and conduct a fact-finding probe into the 2008 death of a tourist.
Kim’s remarks attest to the South struggling with its policy of dealing separately with the family gathering and tour project.
Last August, Pyongyang proposed a meeting to arrange family reunions and reopen the tour, but Seoul had only agreed to talks on the former.
The decision reflected persistent tension stemming from the 2008 incident and concerns about a suspected diversion of the program’s revenue to military use.
Once touted as a symbol of cross-border cooperation, the tours to the scenic mountain on the east coast were launched in 1998 but have been on hold since a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier in July 2008 when she strolled into an off-limits area.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)