NKorean insistence on resuming tours holds up talks on reunions of families separated by war

By Kwang-tae Kim, AP
Friday, September 24, 2010

Talks on split families’ reunions held up

SEOUL, South Korea — Talks between the two Koreas were held up Friday after North Korea insisted that tours to its scenic Diamond Mountain resort be resumed before reunions of divided families can be held there, South Korea’s Red Cross said.

The meeting came a week after the two sides failed to decide on a venue for or the scale of the reunions — popular on both sides of the heavily fortified border.

South Korea wants to hold the family meetings in a reunion center at Diamond Mountain. The North also suggested hosting the meetings at the resort but didn’t say where exactly.

The scenic resort has been at the center of the dispute between the two Koreas since 2008 when a South Korean tourist was fatally shot after allegedly entering a restricted military area next to the resort. South Korea has since halted the tours to the resort — one of the few legitimate sources of hard currency for the North’s impoverished regime.

Pyongyang has repeatedly demanded that Seoul resume tours to the facility, but South Korea has refused to restart tours until its demands for a joint investigation into the shooting are carried out. Pyongyang repeated the demand on Friday.

The two sides last held reunions in late 2009, one of the few areas in which the two divided Koreas consistently cooperate.

Authorities agreed to meet again on Oct. 1 for an additional working-level meeting to further discuss the venue, the Red Cross said in a statement.

Agreement on holding the reunions would be a sign of improving relations between the Koreas, whose ties have sunken to new lows after the March sinking of a South Korean warship that an international investigation blamed on Pyongyang. North Korea denies involvement.

In a move that threatens to exacerbate tensions on the peninsula, South Korea and the United States said Friday they will hold joint anti-submarine exercises next week.

Since 2000, more than 20,800 of the millions of families that were divided by the 1950-53 Korean War have been reunited through brief face-to-face meetings or by video.

The conflict ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically at war.

In a show of force against North Korea, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. military in Seoul said Friday that they will hold exercises from Monday through Friday off the peninsula’s west coast. The drills had been scheduled to run earlier this month, but were delayed because of a typhoon.

The drills will be the second in a series of maneuvers the two allies conducted in response to the deadly March sinking of the South Korean warship.

North Korea has strongly objected to the drills, claiming they are a preparation for an invasion.

Associated Press writer Sangwon Yoon contributed to this report.

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