Seoul demands family reunions, tours be discussed separately

Seoul demands family reunions, tours be discussed separately

SEOUL - Seoul on Monday reiterated its demand to separate the issues of reunions of divided families and stalled tours to Mount Geumgang as a cash-strapped Pyongyang seeks to link them to reopen the lucrative resort programme.

Concerned that the more challenging issue of the tour resumption could complicate its efforts for the family reunions, the South did not immediately respond to the North's proposal on Sunday for talks on the resort that has been suspended since 2008.

"It is more accurate to say (Seoul) is cautious, rather than saying it is either positive or negative (about proposed talks over the tours)," a Seoul official told reporters.

"We will decide how to respond in due consideration of our long-held stance over the tours and the overall inter-Korean relationship."

The tours to the scenic mountain on the east coast, once touted as a symbol of cross-border reconciliation, were suspended after a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier in July 2008 for venturing into an off-limits area.

The South has maintained the tours will not resume until the North introduces measures to prevent a recurrence of a similar tragedy and ensure the safety of tourists.

On Sunday, Pyongyang proposed holding working-level talks over the tours on Thursday, while accepting Seoul's earlier offer of a meeting on Friday over the family reunions around Korean Thanksgiving next month.

Observers said the North, once again, revealed its intention to link the issues as it offered dialogue just a day before the two sides could sit to discuss the reunion of families separated since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

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