Seoul offers talks on Geumgang tours on Sept. 25

Seoul offers talks on Geumgang tours on Sept. 25
North Korea's chief delegate Pak Chol-Su (L) shakes hands with his South Korean counterpart Kim Ki-Woong (R) during a talk in North Korea. -Korea Herald/ANN

KOREA - South Korea on Tuesday proposed talks with the North on Sept. 25 to restart the stalled tours to Mount Geumgang after a five-year freeze in a fresh sign of thaw in cross-border relations.

The surprise announcement came two days after Pyongyang accepted Seoul's offer of talks to arrange the first reunions of separated families in almost three years and proposed a separate meeting on Thursday over the tour project.

While stressing the need to deal with the two issues separately, the Unification Ministry said the decision reflects its position that the two Koreas should "build trust and develop their relations step by step" with the recent breakthrough on reopening the Gaeseong factory park.

"While implementing concrete measures for the future-oriented normalization of the Gaeseong industrial complex, there is a need to successfully carry out family reunions, a principal humanitarian issue given the sad reality that old members of the separated families are passing away," the ministry said in a statement.

"As for the Geumgang tour issue, we can explore developmental solutions with a more prudent approach given various factors, such as the fact that five years have passed since its suspension."

The decision apparently epitomizes the Park Geun-hye administration's resolve to sustain the mood for cross-border reconciliation, boosted by the agreement on Aug. 16 to take steps to reactivate the factory zone.

Pyongyang on Sunday proposed a meeting at Mount Geumgang to arrange family reunions for September and resume tours to the mountain resort, but Seoul had only agreed to talks on the reunions, putting off a decision on the tourism project.

The delay reflected lingering tension stemming from the 2008 death of a South Korean tourist and concerns about a suspected diversion of the programme's revenues.

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