S. Korea rejects bartering with N. Korea

December 16, 2015

SEOUL (Yonhap) — South Korea won’t accept North Korea’s demands simply to achieve its goal of regular reunions for families separated in the 1950-53 Korean War, Seoul’s point man on Pyongyang said Thursday.

Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo was referring to Pyongyang’s demand that the two sides resume tours to Mount Kumgang, a lucrative source of income for the impoverished country, before talks on regular reunions begin.

“I feel bad for the separated families, but we can’t break principles that have to be kept,” he said during a panel discussion organized by the Kwanhun Club, a fraternity of senior journalists.

South Korea halted the tours in 2008 after one of its tourists was shot dead by a North Korean soldier. It has since sought assurances from Pyongyang that such an incident won’t recur.

The dispute was at the center of the high-level inter-Korean talks that ended Saturday with no agreements or plans for further talks.

“Even if it means we have to seek the understanding of the separated families, I don’t think it’s wise to just agree on an exchange over an issue that could be an important touchstone for the safety of our people and in leading inter-Korean ties over the long term,” Hong said.

He also reiterated the government’s stance that it is open to an inter-Korean summit, but only if it will be conducive to reconciliation and a resolution of pending issues.

“Our government wanted to hold extensive and serious talks on the issue of the separated families and other various projects where practical cooperation is possible,” Hong said. “The North, however, strongly insisted that we first agree on the resumption of tours to Mount Kumgang, so we weren’t able to reach a meaningful agreement.”

The minister vowed to continue efforts to improve ties with the North.

“We won’t be affected at every turn, but we will try to sustain the momentum for the development of South-North ties that was gained through the Aug. 25 deal,” Hong said.

Last week’s talks were an outcome of the Aug. 25 inter-Korean agreement that defused heightened military tensions on the Korean Peninsula following a land mine blast at the border blamed on the North.