News / Asia

No Progress Reported From North Korea Talks

The Red Cross Societies of the two Koreas held a second day of talks to discuss reunions of long-separated families. In addition, colonels from the U.S.-led United Nations Command met with North Korean officers at the truce village of Panmunjom. These are preliminary discussions aimed at resuming general-level talks between the two sides.

The Red Cross talks were held in advance of Saturday's family reunions at the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea. The last reunion of families separated by the border took place three years ago.

The event Saturday will bring together 100 people from each side of the border.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan says the government expects this will lead to a further warming of relations between Seoul and Pyongyang.

Kim tells reporters that South Korean officials hope sincere dialogue between the two Koreas will resume following the reunion.

South Korea says 80,000 of its citizens - who are mostly elderly - are awaiting visits with family members in the North. They have been separated since the Korean War in the early 1950's.

South Korea wants reunions to be held nearly monthly. Officials here say North Korea wants several meetings annually, but only if Seoul provides hundreds of thousands of tons of rice and fertilizer and resumes tours to the South Korean-owned Kumgang facility.

Tours were halted two years ago after military guards shot and killed a South Korean woman at the resort. South Korea's government says the tours cannot resume until Pyongyang agrees to an on-site investigation of the killing and makes firm guarantees about security for South Korean visitors.

The tours were a significant source of hard currency for the cash-strapped communist government.

South Korean Red Cross officials say they are not in a position to make a decision on the North's requests and will refer the matter to government authorities.

At the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday, colonel-level officers of the U.S.-led United Nations Command and North Korea's military held their latest talks. The discussions are meant to clear the way for a meeting between generals of the two sides. But, officials here say no breakthrough occurred.

A U.S. military spokesman says Wednesday's talks lasted about 90 minutes and there is no word on when the next session might be held.

This round was initiated in July following the sinking in late March of a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, in the Yellow Sea. An international investigation blamed the sinking on a North Korean torpedo. Pyongyang has denied any responsibility for the incident, in which 46 South Korean sailors died.

Seven meetings since July have resulted in little progress. U.S. military officials say the North Koreans repeatedly have insisted on sending their own investigators to South Korea to inspect the hull of the vessel, which was recovered from the sea bed.

Fighting in the Korean War ended in 1953 but there has never been a peace treaty. A truce remains in effect. The U.N. command is responsible for carrying out the terms of the armistice.

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