Minister pins blame on North for failed talks

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Minister pins blame on North for failed talks

South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo on Thursday blamed the abrupt end to high-level inter-Korean talks last week on North Korea’s insistence that tourism on Mount Kumgang be resumed.

The program had previously served as a cash cow for the Communist state until it was halted in 2008, after a North Korean soldier fatally shot a South Korean tourist.

“The North wanted to have a definite answer on whether the tourism program at Mount Kumgang would be reinstated,” Hong said.

The talks, the first on the vice-ministerial level in eight years, ended inclusively without any agreements. A date for a follow-up meeting was also left undetermined.

Hong went on to say that it would be inappropriate to accept Pyongyang’s demand in exchange for holding reunions for the families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

His remarks Thursday were presented during a panel discussion held by the Kwanhun Club, a group of senior journalists.

Tours at the scenic North Korean mountain resort were suspended after a female South Korean tourist, 53-year-old Park Wang-ja, was fatally shot by a North Korean soldier on July 11, 2008.

The program, which was established in 1998, was halted immediately after her death and has since become a symbol of frozen inter-Korean ties.

Seoul has insisted on a formal statement by North Korea guaranteeing the safety of South Korea’s citizens and that such an incident will not be repeated.

Those requests, however, have gone unheeded by Pyongyang.

Hong acknowledged that though he was often left heartbroken by the persistent pleas for inter-Korean family reunions, the government would not violate its principles regarding the tourism program and reiterated that the North needed to formally ensure the safety of South Korean tourists.

Seoul earlier proposed to Pyongyang that a dialogue brokered by the Red Cross be arranged to discuss another round of inter-Korean family reunions for January and offered to discuss the tour program in a separate talk. North Korea rejected that plan.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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