North Korea agrees on talks on family reunions

SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea on Sunday accepted South Korea's offer for talks on holding a reunion of families separated by war, but proposed separate talks on resuming jointly run tours in North Korea, implying it wants a restart of the lucrative tours in return for it allowing the reunions.

Last week, the two Koreas agreed to work toward a resumption of a jointly run factory park in North Korea, raising hopes for improved ties between the rivals. Seoul subsequently proposed Red Cross talks Friday on restarting the reunions.

On Sunday, an unidentified spokesman at Pyongyang's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said the North had agreed on the Red Cross talks. He proposed meeting at the country's scenic Diamond Mountain, and not at the southern side of the border village of Panmunjom as South Korea requested.

The spokesman said North Korea also wants another set of talks Thursday on tourism tours of Diamond Mountain, a day ahead of the proposed Red Cross meeting.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said it is reviewing the North Korean statement.

South Korea suspended tours to Diamond Mountain after a South Korean woman was shot dead by a North Korean border guard there in 2008. The project had provided a legitimate source of hard currency to North Korea before its suspension.

"The North Korean intention is obvious. It is saying it wants to exchange the resumption of the Diamond Mountain tours with the family reunions," said Lim Eul Chul, a professor at South Korea's Kyungnam University.

Family reunions were a major inter-Korean cooperation program formulated under a previous era of detente on the divided Korean Peninsula. About 22,000 North and South Koreans had brief family reunions before the program ended in 2010 due to increased tensions between the countries.

Wednesday's agreement by the two Koreas to push to restart the jointly run Kaesong industrial park could signal a thawing in ties between the rivals. But there's also skepticism in South Korea about the North's intentions. North Korea threatened Seoul and Washington with nuclear war this spring, and analysts say the North often follows provocations and threats with a charm offensive meant to win aid.

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