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(6th LD) Koreas fail to agree on more family reunions, North requests aid

All Headlines 22:57 October 16, 2009

(ATTN: RECASTS lead, UPDATES with more details, fresh quotes from Seoul's chief negotiator, expert's comments; RESTRUCTURES; CORRECTS figures in para 12)
By Kim Hyun and Tony Chang

SEOUL, Oct. 16 (Yonhap) -- The two Koreas on Friday ended their day-long negotiations over further cross-border family reunions and other humanitarian issues without reaching any concrete agreement, with Pyongyang asking for resumption of 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 in both Seoul and Pyongyang, and again around February at the North's Mount Kumgang resort.

The most recent round of family reunions, held in late September at Mount Kumgang, was the first in nearly two years. Pyongyang has yet to promise to regularize the humanitarian event.

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, started around 10 a.m. and ended close to 6:30 p.m., with a number of recesses in between, officials at the Unification Ministry said.

"The two Koreas have not reached a concrete agreement (on Seoul's proposals) due to differences in stances," Kim Eyi-do, the ministry's senior policy cooperation officer, who served as South Korea's chief negotiator, said at a press briefing after returning to Seoul. The two sides promised to consult each other on future Red Cross talks, he said.

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

The North's officials did not make clear how much or what kind of aid their government wants from Seoul, according to Kim.

The request was not made as a direct precondition for future talks, Kim said, adding that it "seemed to be in line" with similar remarks made by Jang Jae-on, the North's Red Cross chief, during last month's reunions.

Jang had asked his South Korean counterpart, Yoo Chong-ha, whether the South was willing to extend a "goodwill" measure toward the North in response to resuming the reunions, which was largely seen as a question linked to humanitarian aid.

The Lee Myung-bak government has stopped providing aid to North Korea, demanding that the North first make progress in the six-party talks on dismantling its nuclear weapons programs.

Over the past decade, Lee's liberal predecessors shipped 400,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer to North Korea annually, despite the regime's nuclear activities.

The World Food Program has said North Korea will need more than 800,000 tons of food aid from abroad to feed its 24 million people this year.

Another Unification Ministry official said that while Seoul will review Pyongyang's request because it does provide a certain amount of unconditional humanitarian aid to the North in principle, a decision to give massive assistance would require deliberation and consultations among various government bodies.

The South Korean delegation also raised the issue of South Korean prisoners of war (POWs) from the Korean War and civilian abductees, urging the North to discuss with Seoul a "fundamental solution" for families of POWs.

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.

Experts believe the two sides came to the meeting knowing what to expect. The unusual speed at which the series of inter-Korean dialogue was arranged this week suggests there were prior consultations. Seoul on Monday proposed two sets of meetings, one between the Red Cross and the other for discussing flood control. Pyongyang accepted both of them the following day.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the Lee administration needs an official aid request from North Korea because of its earlier public commitment to not follow the path of the previous liberal governments that provided unconditional aid while the North continued to develop nuclear weapons.

For the North, patching up ties with Seoul is imperative in improving relations with the United States, a key to rebuilding its frail economy, Yang said.

But Seoul is unlikely to keep pace with Pyongyang, given its policy priority on the North's denuclearization, he said.

"South Korea has been at the forefront of the nations implementing the punitive U.N. sanctions against North Korea. South Korea will not give any large-scale aid, other than a ton or two of corn," he predicted.


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