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(4th LD) Koreas fail to agree on more family reunions, North requests aid

All Headlines 19:37 October 16, 2009

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more details throughout: RESTRUCTURES)
By Tony Chang

SEOUL, Oct. 16 (Yonhap) -- The two Koreas failed Friday to reach consensus on holding more cross-border family reunions, with Pyongyang asking for "humanitarian aid" by Seoul, officials said.

In the meeting arranged by Red Cross offices from both sides, South Korea proposed holding new rounds of reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War next month and again around Lunar New Year's Day in February.

The latest round of family reunions, held in late September, was the first in nearly two years. Ordinary Koreans cannot exchange phone calls, letters or email across the border.

The one-day working-level meeting in Kaesong, just north of the shared border, ended at around 6:30 p.m., officials at the unification ministry said.

"In conclusion, both Koreas failed to bridge differences on their stances on further reunions. No concrete agreements were reached," an official at the ministry said. But the two sides promised to consult one another for future Red Cross talks.

"The North asked for humanitarian aid from the South. We told them that we will review it after returning (to the South)," the official said.

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said Thursday that the meeting will cover "various issues" pertaining to cross-border exchanges. When asked by reporters whether Seoul has any plan to resume rice aid after the talks, he said, "We will decide depending on the developments."

Hyun's remarks suggested a somewhat softened position by Seoul on government-level assistance, which stopped after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office last year, linking inter-Korean exchanges to Pyongyang's denuclearization.

The meeting was held following the North's test-firing of short-range missiles and warnings of a naval clash in the Yellow Sea earlier this week. This "two-track" diplomacy came as the communist country, currently under U.N. sanctions over its nuclear and missile tests in spring, was pushing the South to resume profitable tourism projects and humanitarian aid.

In a rare gesture to patch up frayed ties with the South, North Korea apologized Wednesday for the deaths of six South Koreans who were swept away by a flash flood after the North abruptly opened a dam last month.


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