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(LEAD) Koreas set to hold talks this week despite North's missile tests

All Headlines 11:30 October 13, 2009

(ATTN: RECASTS headline; UPDATES with more details, background throughout)

SEOUL, Oct. 13 (Yonhap) -- North Korea agreed Tuesday to South Korea's proposal for talks later this week on preventing floods of cross-border rivers and resuming reunions of separated families, government officials in Seoul said.

The North's latest reconciliatory gesture comes just one day after it abruptly test-fired five short-range missiles in the East Sea.

Pyongyang has also shown signs that it is preparing additional missile tests in the West Sea, but the officials in Seoul said the North's provocative moves would not affect the upcoming inter-Korean talks.

On Monday, the South Korean government sent a letter proposing that working-level talks be held in the North's border city of Kaesong on Wednesday to discuss measures to prevent flooding of the Imjin River that runs along the western section of the inter-Korean border. The talks will focus on preventing the recurrence of the North's sudden water discharge from an upstream dam in September that left six South Korean campers dead, said the officials.

On a separate track, the South's National Red Cross announced that its head, Yoo Chong-ha, sent a letter to his Northern counterpart Jang Jae-on proposing talks on Friday at the North's Mount Kumgang resort to explore ways to resume cross-border family reunions.

Lee Jong-joo, a spokesperson at the South's Unification Ministry, said the North has agreed to meet with Seoul officials on the proposed dates, but asked to hold both meetings in Kaesong.

The upcoming meetings come in light of thawing bilateral ties following the North's shift to conciliatory diplomacy with the South and the United States.

"Details of the planned talks will be fine-tuned later today," said Chun Hae-sung, another spokesperson at the ministry, adding that Seoul will likely accept the North's request to hold the Red Cross meeting in Kaesong on Friday.

Chun said the Seoul delegation for the flood control talks is expected to be headed by a director-level government official.

When asked about the ministry's position on the North's missile tests on Monday, Chun refrained from offering a clear response, only saying that as far as the inter-Korean talks slated for this week are concerned, he sees "no particular problems" arising from the missile tests.

"We believe that the type of missiles fired on Monday are similar to those that the North has launched on multiple occasions in the past," Chun said.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told South Korean and Japanese leaders at their joint summit in Beijing Saturday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il indicated a wish to improve relations with Seoul and Tokyo as well as Washington. Wen was in Pyongyang last week, meeting with Kim and other senior Pyongyang officials.

Following Monday's missile launches, North Korea again appeared to be readying to test-fire short-range missiles off its west coast.

"There are signs that the missile launches are being prepared on the west coast," a South Korean government source said, adding they could be part of a routine military exercise aimed at improving rocket capabilities.


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