July 12, 2013 09:27
North Korea on Thursday agreed to put off talks on the resumption of package tours to Mt. Kumgang and reunions of families separated by the Korean War. The North proposed the additional talks a day earlier but South Korea rebuffed the offer, saying it wants to concentrate on solving problems with the Kaesong Industrial Complex first.
The Unification Ministry said the North "wants to concentrate on solving the question of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, just as our side said on Wednesday."
Seoul on Wednesday accepted only the proposal for Red Cross talks about the family reunions but suggested a different venue.
Pyongyang is keen to revive the lucrative Mt. Kumgang package tours as its sources of hard currency are drying up amid tightening international sanctions. Some pundits speculate that the offer to talk about resuming family reunions was merely a sweetener in order to resume the tours, and that is why the North is withdrawing both.
"The regime apparently decided that it could gain nothing if South Korea accepted only talks about family reunions but declined to talk about the tours," Prof. Kim Yong-hyun of Dongguk University speculated.
When the North suddenly proposed inter-Korean talks last month after months of threats of nuclear war and other belligerent antics, it suggested talking about three issues -- reopening the Kaesong industrial park, resuming Mt. Kumgang tours, and family reunions. But it soon became clear that Seoul was unwilling to talk about all three and the North then scuppered preparatory discussions over a petty question of the rank of delegates.
The family reunions have been suspended since November 2010. Seoul proposed family reunions twice last year, but Pyongyang did not respond.
A total of 128,803 people applied for family reunions with an agency managed by the Unification Ministry and the South Korean Red Cross. Some 55,347 of them have since died.
The package tours were halted after a North Korean soldier in 2008 shot dead a South Korean tourist who had strayed off-course.
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