(4th LD) Seoul wants regular reunions, talks to resolve POW, abduction issues |
By Tony Chang
MOUNT KUMGANG, North Korea, Aug. 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korea continued to press North Korea Thursday to regularize reunions of families separated by the Korean War and demanded that Pyongyang cooperate to resolve the issue of prisoners of war and those allegedly kidnapped by the North.
Officials from the two Koreas held the Red Cross talks for the second day at the North's Mount Kumgang resort following a recent agreement North Korean leader Kim Jong-il reached with Hyun Jeong-eun, chief of South Korea's Hyundai Group, to boost joint ventures and resume family reunions. Pyongyang's initial proposal was to hold the reunions around the Korean holiday of Chuseok, which falls on Oct. 3 this year.
On the second day of negotiations, South Korean officials pressed the North to hold follow-up reunions later this year and during next year's Lunar New Year holiday as part of efforts to regularize the humanitarian event, pool press reports said, citing an official from the Seoul delegation.
The South Korean delegation also raised the issue of South Korean prisoners of war (POW) from the 1950-53 Korean War and civilian abductees, demanding that the issue be dealt in a "new format," as opposed to the previously non-existent efforts shown by the North.
"The issue of these people whose whereabouts became unclear during and after the Korean War must be included in our agreement," the official said, adding that the delegation was trying to persuade its counterpart.
South Korea has been pushing to resolve the issue of POWs and other missing citizens -- estimated at around 1,000 -- in family reunions, while North Korea has shown virtually no effort other than allowing a small percentage of them to participate in the family reunions.
Pyongyang insists it holds no one against their will, but some critics claim that those allowed by the North to participate in the events have been taught by authorities to say they voluntarily crossed the border to the North.
Seoul did not elaborate on specific measures regarding POWs and alleged kidnapping victims, but suggested the two Koreas should have further "discussions" to find a solution.
"In the past, we have included POW and abductee families in the reunion events, but there have been limitations in such measures in resolving the issue. We are asking the North to work together to fundamentally solve the issue," the official said.
Pyongyang's negotiators did not respond, and only focused on the upcoming Chuseok reunions, according to the South Korean official. The two sides will continue negotiations until Friday.
"We will try to reduce our differences, as we still have today and tomorrow," the official said.
The reunions were last held in October 2007 and stopped after political relations chilled last year with the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak, who linked inter-Korean relations to progress in Pyongyang's denuclearization.
At Wednesday's meeting, the South Korean delegation proposed holding two separate rounds, on Sept. 27-29 and Oct. 6-8, while the North proposed holding them Oct. 3-5 and Oct. 6-8.
For the venue, Seoul proposed a 12-story building it built last year for the reunions at Mount Kumgang, but Pyongyang insisted on the Kumgangsan Hotel, where this week's talks are being held.