NKorea asks South for talks on restarting tours
Saturday, October 2, 2010; 7:55 AM
SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea asked for talks with South Korea on resuming cross-border tourist trips to a resort inside the North, state media said Saturday, a day after the rivals agreed to hold reunions for families separated by the Korean War.
The two Koreas started the tours to the North's scenic Diamond Mountain resort more than a decade ago as part of reconciliation efforts. South Korea halted them in 2008 following the shooting death of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier near the resort.
North Korea has since demanded that Seoul resume the tours, which provided a much-needed influx of revenue to the impoverished North. South Korea has refused to restart them until its demands for a joint investigation into the shooting are carried out and its tourists' safety guaranteed.
North Korea has suggested that the two sides meet Oct. 15 in the North's border city of Kaesong, the official Korean Central News Agency said. The offer was sent to South Korea's Unification Ministry.
The South is reviewing whether to accept the proposal, said Lee Jong-joo, a spokeswoman at the ministry, which handles relations with the North.
The North's offer comes amid mixed signals from the country on easing inter-Korean tensions, which have been at their highest in years due to the March sinking of a South Korean warship that Seoul blames on North Korea.
Red Cross officials from the two sides agreed Friday that 100 separated families from each country will temporarily reunite with their relatives from Oct. 30 to Nov. 5 at a hotel and reunion center at Diamond Mountain.
The agreement on the reunions, last held in late 2009, was one of the first signs of resumed cooperation between the rivals since the sinking that killed 46 South Korean sailors. An international investigation led by South Korea blamed the attack on a North Korean torpedo. The North denies involvement.
Despite the positive signs, North Korea warned during separate military talks with South Korea on Thursday that it might fire on South Korean activists who send anti-North leaflets by balloon across the heavily fortified border.
North Korean defectors and South Korean activists regularly send leaflets across the border in a campaign to urge North Koreans to rise up against leader Kim Jong Il.
Also this week, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Pak Kil Yon vowed at the United Nations that the North would strengthen its nuclear capability in response to what he described as hostile moves by the United States.
The mix of conciliatory and threatening moves comes as North Korea is laying the groundwork for a future power succession in the authoritarian state.
Leader Kim Jong Il earlier in the week promoted his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, to four-star general and gave him key political posts.