North won’t attend reunion talks

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North won’t attend reunion talks

North Korea put off negotiations on reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War after the South refused to discuss resuming tours to the North’s Mount Kumgang.

The South’s Ministry of Unification said in a statement yesterday that North Korea sent a notice through the liaison channels at the truce village of Panmunjom that they would postpone the two low-level discussions they proposed Wednesday.

The reason for the postponement, according to the ministry, was that the South said it didn’t want to discuss Mount Kumgang until negotiations over resuming operations of the Kaesong Industrial Complex were finished.

Seoul said it will push for the reunion talks to be held.

As a second round of negotiations in Kaesong were failing Wednesday, Pyongyang proposed the two additional talks, but Seoul put off the issue of Mount Kumgang and agreed to hold talks on restarting family reunions on July 19.

The North proposed they be held at Mount Kumgang or Kaesong but Seoul countered with a proposal to hold them at the border village of Panmunjom.

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in a speech at a forum in Yeouido, western Seoul, yesterday that he sent a reply to North Korea explaining that it would be better to make progress on Kaesong issues first and then “find a solution” for the Mount Kumgang resort.

South Korean tours to Mount Kumgang were stopped in July 2008 after a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard.

Also yesterday, North Korea blamed Seoul for Wednesday’s failed talks to restart operations at the jointly-run Kaesong complex, which has been idle for more than three months.

The Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party, said in an article yesterday that negotiations from the South “adhered to irrational claims blaming the suspension of the complex only on us.”

Pyongyang said its negotiators did their best to offer “realistic solutions” to allow resumption of business at the park such as “proposing a draft of an agreement.”

But Seoul rejected it, showed an “insincere attitude,” and only repeated its demand that the North forswear any unilateral actions over the park in the future, it said.

“It was true that North Korea brought a draft of an agreement,” a Unification Ministry official told reporters yesterday. “But we couldn’t accept what it said.”

Meanwhile, 125 South Koreans entered the Kaesong park yesterday, including 64 Southern business owners, for maintenance checks on facilities idled since April. That followed visits by machinery and electronics makers on Wednesday.

A total of 132 businessmen from 50 companies will visit the complex today and tomorrow to retrieve raw materials and finished products. But they will not remove any equipment.

Ratcheting up its conciliatory gestures, Pyongyang sent prior notice to Seoul about a release of water from a dam for the first time in three years.

The Unification Ministry said Wednesday that Pyongyang sent a telegram through the liaison channels at the truce village of Panmunjom saying it would discharge water through the Hwanggang Dam on the upper Imjin River flowing across the border, by opening one of its 24 gates at midnight of that day.

As of 3 p.m. yesterday, the level of the Imjin River was rising to the 1 meter (39 inches) mark, an official at the National Emergency Management Agency told Korea JoongAng Daily.

“When the Imjin’s level goes above 1 meter, we issue a warning to local government officials and order them to evacuate people camping or residing near the river,” the official said.

North Korea has not sent such a notice in advance since the summer of 2010.

In 2009, North Korea discharged water from Hwanggang Dam without warning the Seoul, prompting a flash flood to the downstream, leading to the death of six South Korean people camping near the river.


BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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