Koreas Fail to Agree on Resuming Border Tours, North Stokes Tension
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Officials from North and South Korea ended talks on Feb. 8 without an agreement on how to restart suspended cross-border sightseeing tours.
The tours to Mt. Kumgang in the east and the historic border town of Kaesong in the west raised hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars for Pyongyang until they were suspended in July 2008, when a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard at the mountain.
Chief South Korean delegate Kim Nam-sik said in a briefing after returning from the talks in Kaesong that North Korea continued to reject the possibility of a joint on-site investigation into the shooting.
He quoted his North Korean counterparts as saying they "regret the death," but said they spurned South Korean requests for access to the restricted zone where Park Wang-ja was shot.
"What matters is that a full account must be given" concerning the death of the 53-year-old South Korean housewife, Kim said.
Park was killed shortly before dawn when she wandered into a fenced area at the mountain resort -- which has drawn more than 1.9 million South Korean tourists since it began operating in 1998.
Kim said the North proposed the tours be resumed over the next couple of months but that the South had no timetable for restarting them. The sides failed to agree on a date for additional talks, he said.
The South Korean delegates briefly paid a silent tribute to Park before they started talks with their North Korean counterparts, Kim added. The North did not balk at the gesture, according to Seoul Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung.
The South also demanded that the North first guarantee the safety of future South Korean tourists and implement measures to back its promise, the officials said.
North Korea reiterated its stance that such steps were taken when its leader Kim Jong-il met in August last year with a South Korean businesswoman in charge of the tours.
In a report released on late of the day by the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea insisted that "the South side, far from accepting the north side's sincere proposal, let loose a tirade about 'three conditions' and the like and made a far-fetched assertion that it is impossible to resume the tour unless they are met."
"The North side, with a view to resuming the tour as soon as possible and bringing about a turning phase in the improvement of the inter-Korean relations, presented a draft agreement containing its positive proposal to resume the tour of the Kaesong area from the 1st of March and the tour of Mt. Kumgang from the 1st of April and called on the south side to affirmatively respond to it," the KCNA said.
The one-day meeting came as North Korea gave mixed signals in its approach to the outside world, while under U.N. sanctions imposed for its nuclear and missile tests.
North Korea fired hundreds of artillery shells along its de facto maritime border with South Korea to raise tension late last month while its top political body, the National Defense Commission, vowed a "sacred battle" against the South over reports Seoul has made contingency plans for the North Korean regime's collapse.
Analysts in Seoul say the North will continue to seek dialogue with the outside world despite its menacing rhetoric because of economic difficulties. The plight of the North's 24 million people has deepened since North Korea conducted its second atomic test in May last year, which led to the toughening of arms and trade sanctions, they say.
The Feb. 8 dialogue came as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special envoy was set to visit North Korea this week, and while a senior Chinese envoy was in Pyongyang apparently to persuade the country to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear arms programs.
Wang Jiarui, head of the Chinese Communist Party's international department, may also have carried an invitation for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to come to Beijing, analysts say. Wang has met Kim in four previous trips to Pyongyang since 2004.
In an apparent conciliatory gesture toward the United States, North Korea on Feb. 6 released a U.S. missionary it had held since he crossed into the socialist country from China in December with the goal of publicizing human rights abuses there.
North Korea says it will not return to the nuclear talks unless the international community lifts sanctions on it. Pyongyang also says Washington must launch separate negotiations on formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War, saying the truce signed at the end of the conflict feeds U.S. hostilities against it and hinders the six-party talks.
The aid-for-denuclearization talks, which began in 2003 and have not been held since December 2008, group the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, Russia and host China.