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North Korea demands food, projects for reunions

- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 27, 2010

SEOUL | North Korea demanded that South Korea resume large-scale food aid and joint economic projects in return for regular reunions of family members separated by the Korean War more than a half century ago, South Korea's Red Cross said Wednesday.

The demand was made when Red Cross and government officials from the two countries met Tuesday and Wednesday for talks on how often to arrange the brief reunions of families split by the 1950-53 war, the South's Red Cross said in a statement.

No major breakthrough was reached in the talks at the North Korean border town of Kaesong, and the two sides agreed to meet again next month.

There have been signs of an easing of tensions between the rival Koreas, which spiked in March over the sinking of a South Korean warship that Seoul blamed on the North. North Korea has released American and South Korean detainees, restored a key severed communication line and arranged to hold a family reunion this weekend for the first time in more than a year.

The reunions are emotional for Koreans, as most participants are elderly and are eager to see loved ones before they die. More than 20,800 family members have been reunited since 2000.

During this week's talks, South Korean delegates proposed holding such reunions every month, but the North linked the issue to the resumption of joint economic projects. It called on South Korea to ship 500,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer, the Red Cross said.

The South Korean delegates responded they were not authorized to determine whether to accept North Korea's request. Both countries' delegations were headed by Red Cross officials.

North Korea's state media said its delegates called for the promotion of both unspecified humanitarian inter-Korean projects and the family reunions but the South only focused on the reunion issue. The Korean Central News Agency didn't say whether the North requested the resumption of rice and fertilizer aid.

North Korea also demanded that South Korea hold talks on restarting tours to the North's scenic Diamond Mountain resort, the South Korean statement said.

The tours — which had been one of the few legitimate sources of hard currency for North Korea — were suspended in 2008 after the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean guard.

South Korea was a major donor of food to North Korea for about a decade until conservative President Lee Myung-bak halted unconditional assistance when he took office in early 2008.

Meanwhile, military officers from the U.S.-led U.N. Command and North Korea met and discussed the warship's sinking at the Korean border village of Panmunjom, but ended with no major breakthrough, according to the U.N. Command.

The two Koreas remain technically at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

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