North says no to Oct. 2 for Mt. Kumgang talks

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North says no to Oct. 2 for Mt. Kumgang talks

North Korea yesterday rejected Seoul’s proposal to hold talks on the resumption of tours to Mount Kumgang resort on Oct. 2, expressing regret that the South wanted a much later date than it proposed.

“North Korea requested us to reconsider the Oct. 2 proposal while expressing regret over Seoul’s proposal through liaison officials at [the border village of] Panmunjom,” said an official from the Ministry of Unification yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The North continued to insist on holding working-level talks this week or the first week of September.

In response, the official said, the government reiterated Tuesday’s offer of Oct. 2 talks in consideration that preparations were underway to restart the suspended operations of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and to host reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

Although the two sides failed to reach agreement on a date to hold the tour resumption talks yesterday, the two found new common ground on forming a South-North joint committee for the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

“We [the South and North] agreed to terms for forming a joint committee,” the official said.

He added that Seoul proposed holding a first joint committee meeting Monday on issues related to the restarting of operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Meanwhile, a team of 55 people crossed the border yesterday for a two-day spiffing up of the Mount Kumgang resort ahead of reunions of the families separated by the Korean War.

The 55 technicians and administrators from the Ministry of Unification, the state-run Korea Electric Power Corporation and Hyundai Asan departed for the mountain resort at 9 a.m. yesterday. The group was led by a representative from South Korea’s Red Cross, who is also a Unification Ministry official.

The maintenance team was checking up on facilities at the resort before the reunions scheduled for Sept. 25-30.

They will be the first reunions to be held in almost three years.

Yesterday’s visit was the first time in three years that a South Korean government official entered the shuttered resort following a thaw in relations between the two Koreas.

The workers returned to the South at 5 p.m. yesterday. They will do a second day of maintenance today on the same schedule.

Meanwhile, in response to media reports yesterday that the Park Geun-hye administration has demanded Pyongyang return assets at the resort that it seized to their rightful, South Korean owners, the ministry in charge of inter-Korea relations said the reunions will be held as scheduled while other issues related to Mount Kumgang are worked out.

“The government’s position is that the reunions are not linked to the issue of the Kumgang tours, as it is purely humanitarian,” said ministry spokesperson Kim Hyung-suk during a press briefing yesterday.

The spokesman also stressed, “The government gives top priority to the reunions under any circumstances [in inter-Korean relation] and will handle the issue separately from the Kumgang tours.”

The spokesman, however, reiterated the government’s stance that it will seek the return of the assets to the southern owners and urged Pyongyang to reverse its confiscation.

“North Korea must withdraw its unjustifiable confiscations of assets of the South Korean government and private companies at the resort.”

The government does not directly own assets at the resort but the state-run Korea National Tourism Organization and the Korea National Red Cross does.

In July 2008, a South Korean tourist was shot and killed by a North Korean guard for allegedly trespassing into an unauthorized area.

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