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North seeks to resume inter-Korean tourism program

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SEOUL – In what is seen as part of efforts to resume the inter-Korean tourism program, North Korea on Monday asked South Korea to send relevant officials to their upcoming talks to arrange the reunion

SEOUL – In what is seen as part of efforts to resume the inter-Korean tourism program, North Korea on Monday asked South Korea to send relevant officials to their upcoming talks to arrange the reunions of separated families, the South’s authorities said.

Yonhap News Agency reports that the North’s Red Cross sent a letter to its southern counterpart that reads, “In order to hold separate consultations on the venue for family reunions at the working-level contact on Sept. 24, we will send two related workers who participated in the working-level contact in February on resuming tourism.”

The North demanded the South also dispatch tourism-related officials to the talks.

South Koreans’ tour of Mount Kumgang along the North’s east coast, once a cash cow for the impoverished communist regime, has been suspended since a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a coast guard there on July 11, 2008.

A similar tourism program to the North’s ancient town of Kaesong also came to a halt shortly thereafter.

Pyongyang has been seeking to resume the joint ventures but Seoul has called for it first to offer a formal apology for the killing of the innocent housewife killed at the coastal resort, draw up measures to prevent the recurrence of such an incident, and guarantee the safety of tourists.

The two Koreas had working-level talks on Feb. 8 to discuss the issue but failed to produce a deal, with the North refusing to accept the South’s demands.

After months of sharp military tension, South and North Korea reopened formal contact last week to discuss ways to restart the reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the two sides reached a provisional agreement to hold the event at the resort mountain of Kumgang in October. South Korean officials specifically called for it to be held at the family reunion center on the mountain but the North has not given a clear answer. The two sides are scheduled to meet again on Friday.

The North’s call for including officials associated with the tourism program in the talks on family reunions is viewed as aimed at putting pressure on the South to resume it, observers said.