Pyongyang wants ‘quick’ response on tourism talks

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Pyongyang wants ‘quick’ response on tourism talks

North Korea urged South Korea yesterday to agree “as quickly as possible” to a working dialogue on resuming their suspended cross-border tourism project, officials said, adding pressure on Seoul, which is wary of possible implications on other inter-Korean exchanges.

The North made the demand in a message delivered to South Korean officials at a joint industrial complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, Unification Ministry officials in Seoul said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The North had proposed that the talks be held today, but the South has remained undecided on whether or when to hold the talks, in a message sent early in the week.

The tours, which brought the communist country millions of U.S. dollars each year, were suspended in 2008 when a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier after apparently wandering into a restricted zone near the joint resort.

The North has frozen or seized South Korean assets at the resort since earlier this year in anger over Seoul’s refusal to resume the tours until the North allows an on-site probe and implements a variety of measures aimed at guaranteeing the safety of tourists.

The North’s proposal for tourism talks had come about a week after an inter-Korean meeting of Red Cross officials on Sept. 24, during which the sides finalized plans for the reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce.

The South’s reluctance to renew talks over the Kumgang tours appeared to illustrate the anxiety Seoul has concerning its possible influence on the reunions slated to begin late this month.

In the past, North Korea had used such reunion events as a way to extract economic and political concessions from its affluent southern neighbor.

South Korea also maintains it will not consider restarting the tourism project until North Korea takes steps to account for the sinking of its warship in March. Seoul blames Pyongyang for the sinking that killed 46 sailors, while the North denies its role.

“Our position is the same. Our decision concerning the Kumgang tourism talks remains pending,” a Unification Ministry official said.

The Unification Ministry said in a statement earlier this week that its decision over the tourism talks will also “take into account the schedule for the reunion event from Oct. 30 to Nov. 5” and another working round of Red Cross talks that will precede it.

A working-level official at the ministry said last week that South Korea may propose slating the tourism talks for either right before or after the family reunions.

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