North Korea on Sunday accepted a proposal by President Park Geun-hye last week to resume reunions of families separated by the Korean War after the two sides struck an agreement to reopen the troubled Kaesong Industrial Complex.
Pyongyang also suggested talks to discuss the resumption of package tours to the North's scenic Mt. Kumgang resort. The tours were halted in 2008 after the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier.
The North called for the tour talks to take place on Thursday, a day before the agreed negotiations over the reunions.
Pyongyang is constantly trying to link the lucrative tours to family reunions. A spokesman for North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said, "The reunions of separated families and their relatives shall take place in Mt. Kumgang resort on the occasion of the upcoming Chuseok and their video meetings timed for the anniversary of the Oct. 4, 2007 Summit Declaration."
The spokesman added that Pyongyang wants to discuss the reunions at Mt. Kumgang, instead of in the border truce village of Panmujom, as the South had proposed.
The talks would address "concerns of the South Korean side," including preventing the recurrence of incidents like the shooting, ensuring South Korean tourists’ safety and protecting South Korean assets.
When officials from the two sides met on July 10 to discuss reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the North proposed talks to discuss the resumptions of the package tours and the family reunions. But at the time the government here said family reunions can be discussed for humanitarian reasons but the tours have to wait. North Korean then withdrew the offer altogether.
On Sunday, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said Seoul views Pyongyang's proposal of talks about family reunions "positively" but needs to undertake an "internal review" before reacting to the offer of talks about the package tours.
The government here is apparently encouraged by North Korea's offer to discuss the safety of South Korean tourists and the protection of the South's assets but keen to separate the tours from family reunions. It does not want to let the North use a humanitarian matter as leverage in business negotiations.
Meanwhile, preparations are under way to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Seoul sent government officials to inspect the complex on Saturday and is planning to meet with North Korean officials to set up a joint committee to oversee it as agreed last week.
The government is also to send another 34 staff to Kaesong on Monday to check out power, water, communications and waste disposal facilities before manufacturers return to their factories there.