September 30, 2009 09:49
Seoul regards the North Korean nuclear issue and the resumption of package tours to the North's scenic Mt. Kumgang resort as separate issues, Vice Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho said Tuesday. He was speaking to a pool of reporters covering the reunions of separated families at the resort. "Mt. Kumgang tours are a routine affair between the two Koreas. If even this matter was linked to the nuclear issue, then there would be nothing at all the two sides can do."
He said North Korea needs to satisfy three conditions before the package tours can resume -- Pyongyang must apologize for the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist in 2008, provide a safety guarantee for tourists, and promise that such an incident would not recur.
Recently, North Korean officials have been asking visiting South Korean officials whether they think the Mt. Kumgang tours can resume. The North is laboring under international sanctions and is keen to revive the tours, which earn it a substantial sum of money per tourist.
Asked to comment on a roundabout North Korean request for rice and fertilizer aid in connection with the reunions of separated families, Hong said, "We don't have any plan to link the family reunions to large-scale rice and fertilizer aid." He admitted that previous governments tacitly gave fertilizer to the North as unofficial payment for the reunions, but he denied this was the case with rice.
Asked about North Korea's unannounced overnight release last month of millions of tons of water from a dam in the Imjin River, which killed six South Koreans downstream, Hong said, "North Korean officials have informally expressed regret over the incident. But we need a formal reply." But he added the government "has no plan yet to demand another apology."
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