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2009/07/23 11:10 KST


North Korea to Propose Family Reunion This Fall: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Unification Ministry said July 21 it is not aware of any move by North Korea to propose a family reunion event to South Korea. A progressive magazine published in Seoul earlier reported that North Korea is expected to soon propose a reunion event for families separated by the Korean War, posing a dilemma for South Korea's conservative government.

   Family reunions between the two Koreas, set up after the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, have been suspended since a round of mail exchanges took place in February last year. The North has since cut off government-level talks and refused to arrange the reunions to protest against South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who adopted a tougher stance on Pyongyang's nuclear program and ended South Korea's free flow of aid to the communist state.

   The Unification Ministry said that it hasn't been contacted by the North on the matter, but noted that issues pertaining to the separated families were one of the ministry's priorities to resolve.

   "I believe there could be various ways and procedures in approaching the issue, such as reunions and hometown visits," Chun Hae-sung, the ministry's spokesman, said at a press briefing.

   Chun, however, declined to respond to a question on whether Seoul would accept should it receive a proposal from the North on reunions in the near future. "It wouldn't be appropriate to answer a hypothetical question," the spokesman said.

   The Minjok 21 magazine, quoting an overseas source who recently traveled to North Korea, reported in its latest issue that North Korea is considering proposing the resumption of family reunions on the occasion of Chuseok, Korea's traditional fall harvest holiday, which falls on Oct. 3 this year.

   The overseas source said he was told by a high-ranking North Korean official that Pyongyang would suggest "special family reunions," Chung Chang-hyun, senior editor of Minjok 21 wrote in his story.

   "There will be proposals from North Korea's Red Cross to its South Korean counterpart for working-level talks on family reunions as time is needed for preparations," Chung quoted the source as saying.

   Another informed source also said that Pyongyang was expected to propose family reunions in the North's Mt. Kumgang resort, Chung wrote. South Korean tours to the mountain resort just north of the inter-Korean border have been suspended for a year after a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier.

   The Koreas have held 16 rounds of face-to-face family reunions since the first summit between their leaders in June 2000.

   Only 16,212 Koreans from separated families have been allowed to meet their loved ones face-to-face and about 3,748 others, mostly too old and weak to travel, have been reunited through real-time video links under a program launched in August 2005.

   More than 90,000 South Koreans are on a waiting list for their turn to be reunited with their northern relatives.


Inter-Korean Trade Tumbles amid Growing Tensions

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Trade between South and North Korea plunged during the first half of this year amid growing tension on the peninsula, Seoul's customs office said July 21.

   Inter-Korean trade amounted to US$649.85 million during the January-June period, down 26.6 percent from $884.79 million in the same period a year earlier, according to the report by the Korea Customs Service.

   Tensions have grown since North Korea fired a long-range rocket on April 5, a move that was unanimously condemned by the U.N. Security Council. In May, Pyongyang upped the tension further by conducting its second nuclear test.

   The missile and nuclear tests aggravated already deteriorating relations between the two Koreas. Ties have worsened since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in early 2008, pledging to get tough on the North's atomic weapons program.

   On-year trade between the two Koreas declined for 10 consecutive months since September last year. First-half trade stood at just 36 percent of last-year's total amount, according to the report.

   Experts say that inter-Korean trade is likely to fall further in the months ahead as tensions are still running high. The UNSC recently imposed a travel ban on a number of North Korean officials and has moved to freeze their assets for their involvement in the North's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

   Trade between the two Koreas, which amounted to $328.65 million in 1999, had surged more than five-fold to $1.79 billion in 2007, when the leaders of the two nations met for the second time. Last year, inter-Korean trade inched up to $1.82 billion, according to the customs office.