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North Korea agrees to talks on abductees

Apr 24,2006
Seoul appears to have dented at last Pyongyang’s stonewalling refusal to discuss the fate of Korean War-era prisoners in North Korea and South Koreans kidnapped after the war to train North Korean spies.
A communique issued at the end of an inter-Korean ministerial meeting in Pyongyang said the two countries would “cooperate in trying to resolve realistically the issue of persons missing during the Korean War and after the war.”
Although tentative, the statement represents real progress, an official in Seoul asserted, noting that North Korea in the past has refused to discuss the matters with Seoul. Pyongyang has not admitted to kidnapping any South Korean civilians and asserted that any South Koreans who stayed in the North after the war had done so of their own free will.
The communique was silent on North Korea’s request for additional massive amounts of rice and fertilizer, donations that public opinion here has forced Seoul to link with the fate of prisoners and abductees. Before leaving for Pyongyang on Friday, Lee Jong-seok, Seoul’s unification minister, said he was prepared to offer more aid if the abductees were returned.
Officials here offered no hints about how yesterday’s agreement would be implemented. Seoul’s Defense Ministry estimates that more than 400 POWs are still being held in the North; civic groups say the number could be about 600.
Other points in the communique were rhetorical; the two nations called for a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue by a speedy implementation of an agreement in principle reached last September, even though Pyongyang has been boycotting those negotiations.
The next ministerial talks will be held in July in Busan, the two sides said; they will address Seoul’s proposal for a sand and gravel joint venture at economic talks next month.


by Brian Lee, Pool Reports


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