South-North talks on flood control, reunions to be held

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South-North talks on flood control, reunions to be held

South Korea and North Korea will meet today to discuss the prevention of flooding at a river that runs across the border, and then again on Friday to talk about reunions of separated families. These will be the first inter-Korean government-level talks since July this year.

North Korea yesterday agreed to the South’s proposals from Monday for the talks. Today in Kaesong, representatives from the two Koreas will sit down to discuss ways to prevent further floods at the Imjin River. Six South Koreans were killed in a September flash flood along the Imjin River caused by the North’s unannounced discharge of dam water.

The river originates north of the border and runs into the Han River in the South. Floods at the Imjin have previously caused damage to fishing farms south of the border.

North Korea has yet to apologize for the September incident. It has only said it would provide prior warnings in the future if it is forced to release water from one of its dams. The South Korean delegation is expected to further press for the apology today.

Government officials from the Koreas last met face-to-face on July 2. They failed to reach a breakthrough in talks regarding wages and land-use fees at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. But the North has since withdrawn its demand for salary increases and has not further pressed the South to pay fees for using Kaesong real estate.

Then on Friday, Red Cross officials from the two Koreas will discuss the resumption of the family reunions and other humanitarian issues. This meeting will be held in Kaesong, rather than at Mount Kumgang as the South had proposed Monday.

Hundreds of Korean families separated during the Korean War were reunited from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1 this year. It was the first family reunion in two years. The Koreas have yet to set a date for the next reunion and they’re expected to discuss turning the reunion into a regular event.

But the South remained mum about specific humanitarian matters. Chun Hae-sung, spokesman for the Unification Ministry, refuted local media reports that the South was prepared to offer the North rice. President Lee Myung-bak has halted unconditional rice aid and has instead linked assistance to the North’s denuclearization efforts. Seoul is sending medication for seniors and infants through NGOs.

“The South Korean government is currently not considering providing rice to the North,” Chun said. “Our basic position hasn’t changed. We will pursue humanitarian aid for the needy and we want to ensure transparency in distribution of our aid. But we’re not looking into resuming rice aid.”

By Yoo Jee-ho []

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