North Korea on Wednesday proposed talks with Seoul next week on resuming a joint tour program to Mount Geumgang and reunions of separated families, the Unification Ministry said.
South Korea accepted the proposal for family meetings but effectively refused talks on the tourism project, according to the ministry.
The inter-Korean tour program was halted in 2008 after a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier at the scenic mountain resort. Family reunions have been on hold since November 2010.
The North’s offer came through the phone line at Panmunjeom while the delegates from the two sides were holding a second round of negotiations in Gaeseong over how to reopen the stalled industrial park.
The North proposed that the two sides hold separate working-level meetings on the Geumgang tour project at the mountain resort on July 17, and on family reunions either at the resort or in the border city of Gaeseong on July 19.
“In consideration of the urgent need to address the separate family issue and in light of a purely humanitarian spirit, we accepted the proposed Red Cross talks on reunion events while reoffering the Peace House on the South‘s side of Panmunjeom as the venue for the meeting,” spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said.
Regarding the Geumgang tour, the ministry delivered its position that the two sides should focus on the ongoing negotiations on the Gaeseong complex, he added.
The decision reflects the government’s view of the joint factory zone as a “touchstone” for cross-border exchanges and cooperation, Kim said.
Kim alluded to Seoul’s suspicion about the North having hidden motives.
“We believe the North has some intention but we will not speak about it. We hope North Korea will change into a trusted dialogue partner and responsible member of the international community,” he said.
Geumgang tourism, the signature inter-Korean project, had been operated by Seoul-based Hyundai Asan Corp until the shooting dead of a female tourist in July 2008.
In an effort to resume the tour, Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun traveled to Pyongyang and met with then-leader Kim Jong-il the following year and secured a guarantee of tourist safety and “all accommodations necessary for the tour.”
But the Lee Myung-bak government waved off the gesture, demanding the regime promise again to the “responsible government authorities.”
Over the past decade, the two countries held meetings for the families displaced by the Korean War around major holidays such as Aug. 15 Liberation Day and Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving.
The last family reunion was held in October 2010 in spite of the North’s sinking of a South Korean corvette and artillery firing on a border island in the West Sea earlier that year. Seoul demanded an apology from North Korea for the attacks but the communist regime denied responsibility.
In August 2012, South Korea’s Red Cross offered to meet its North Korean counterpart to arrange a fresh round of gatherings. But Pyongyang effectively rebuffed the offer by calling for an end to economic sanctions and resumption of the Geumgang tour as preconditions, which Seoul deemed unreasonable.
According to the Unification Ministry, only 72,864 of the 128,824 South Koreans registered since 1988 remain alive, meaning that some 2,000 have died each year.
Of the survivors, 9.3 percent were aged over 90, 40.5 percent were in their 80s, 30.6 percent in their 70s and 11.4 percent in their 60s.
Original Source: http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20130710001061