Reunion talks being linked with Kumgang

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Reunion talks being linked with Kumgang

North Korea is sending two Mount Kumgang officials to a meeting today regarding family reunions. Analysts speculate that the North is trying to use the reunion agreement to push the resumption of allowing free-spending South Korean tourists to its resort.

North Korea’s Red Cross, in a letter sent Monday to its counterpart in the South, said two North Korean officials in charge of trying to resume the Kumgang tours will be present at today’s meeting in Kaesong, north of Gyeonggi, to discuss the reunion of families separated during the Korean War.

The North’s Red Cross demanded the South send its own officials.

The two officials attended a working-level meeting with the South in February designed to discuss resuming the tours, Pyongyang said.

Tours to the scenic North Korean mountain, located north of Gangwon, were suspended after a South Korean female tourist was shot to death by a North Korean soldier near the mountain in July 2008. Ever since, the North has called for the resumption of the tours.

Grand National Party data showed the North earned $133 million through the Kumgang tour program - the first inter-Korean tour program since the Korean War - since the tours started in 1998.

Seoul has refused to restart the program, asking for three preconditions.

They are an investigation into the killing of the South Korean tourist, Park Wang-ja, a promise to prevent another act of violence against tourists, and institutionalization of safety measures for South Korean tourists.

The two Koreas held a working-level meeting on Feb. 8 about resuming the tours. The meeting made no progress.

The North froze or seized South Korean assets there in protest, including a family-reunion venue and assets of the tour manager Hyundai Asan.

The Ministry of Unification, which handles North Korea issues, was not available yesterday for comment about the development.

Analysts speculated that Seoul will unlikely respond to the Kumgang issue now.

The government, though, might arrange a separate meeting to discuss it after the scheduled reunions next month.

In a working-level official meeting on Friday for family reunions, the two Koreas agreed to hold the reunions Oct. 21-27, but failed to decide the venue and the number of families to be reunited.

By Moon Gwang-lip []
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