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(3rd LD) N. Korea makes aid demand from S. Korea during Red Cross talks

All News 15:39 October 27, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more details, CHANGES headline; COMBINES with story slugged N Korea-aid demand)

KAESONG, North Korea, Oct. 27 (Joint Press Corps) -- North Korea demanded 500,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer in humanitarian aid from South Korea in return for concessions over reunions of families separated by the Korean War, officials said Wednesday.

Red Cross delegates from Seoul told their North Korean counterparts here that their organization had no power to approve such massive aid, one South Korean official involved in the talks told reporters.

The demand was made during the second day of the Koreas' Red Cross talks. The North had asked on Tuesday that the sides increase "humanitarian cooperation projects" as a way to expand chances for families separated by the 1950-53 war to be reunited.

The talks in the North Korean border town of Kaesong came ahead of the first family reunions in a year at the Mount Kumgang resort in eastern North Korea from Saturday to next Friday, a sign of easing tension on the peninsula.

The official, asking not to be named because the talks were still underway, said his government was reviewing the demand. Another official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said South Korea "does not consider such large-scale aid as humanitarian."

More than 80,000 South Koreans are waiting for a chance to be reunited with their loved ones left in the North after the 1950-53 war ended in a truce. About 20,800 Koreans have been reunited since 2000, when the countries' governments held their first summit. Virtually no means of civilian contact are available between the two nations.

South Korea demanded during the two-day talks in Kaesong that the reunions be held at least nine times each year. The South Korean officials said North Korean delegates "tied the reunion issue to rice and fertilizer aid."

"We may be able to discuss it in our next round of Red Cross talks," one official said, adding the South proposed holding talks in late November in the South Korean border town of Munsan.

At the start of the meeting Wednesday, Choe Song-ik, head of the North Korean delegation, pressed South Korea on the earlier demand for humanitarian projects.

"There is a saying that one should not miss the right timing. Opportunities do not arise all the time, do they?" Choe said.

Choe also noted that Yoo Chong-ha, head of the South Korean Red Cross, was nearing the end of his tenure and may need showpiece achievements contributing to a thaw in inter-Korean relations.

Kim Yong-hyun, the chief South Korean delegate, responded by saying that his boss was working in his best capacity "regardless of his tenure."

Kim said his side had "carefully studied" the North's proposals made a day earlier and called for a more conciliatory stance from his counterpart.

Choe told Kim to "just have faith."

"Without faith, feelings of insecurity arise," he said. "All will go well if there is faith as one nation."

Choe also said, tongue in cheek, "I saw chief delegate Kim carrying a fat briefcase" and that the South Korean "perhaps brought with him many good proposals."

South Korea stopped sending massive food aid to North Korea after President Lee Myung-bak took office in early 2008 with a pledge to link such assistance to progress in Pyongyang's denuclearization efforts.

The relations between the divided countries hit the lowest point in years when the South condemned the North in May for the sinking of one of its warships. Forty-six sailors died in the sinking that the North denies any role in.

South Korea shipped 300,000-400,000 tons of rice to North Korea annually before Lee, a conservative, took over. The South this week is sending a shipment of 5,000 tons of rice to the North in flood aid through the Red Cross channel.

The North Korean Red Cross is also demanding that the South resume its cross-border tours to Mount Kumgang, where a South Korean tourist was shot to death in 2008 after apparently wandering into a restricted zone.

The tours immediately ground to a halt. North Korea says it has taken every measure to account for the shooting and guarantee safety, while the South calls for a renewed on-site probe and an array of tangible security measures.

Earlier this year, North Korea froze and seized South Korean facilities at the resort, including a family reunion center, in anger over Seoul's refusal to resume the tours. The prospect for reopening the Mount Kumgang tours worsened when South Korea condemned the North for the Cheonan sinking.

The tours were long seen as a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation and won Pyongyang millions of U.S. dollars every year until 2008. On Wednesday, the North renewed its demand that the two governments quickly hold dialogue on ways to revive the cross-border tourism project.

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