North Korea has 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, an official and news reports said on Wednesday.
The demand was made on Tuesday when Red Cross and government officials of the countries began two days of talks on how often to arrange the brief reunions of families split by the 1950—53 war.
There have been recent signs of an easing of tensions between the rival Koreas, which spiked in March over the sinking of a South Korean warship which 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 had reunions since 2000.
During Tuesday’s meeting, South Korean delegates proposed holding such reunions every month and North Korea responded by proposing three to four times a year, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.
However, North Korea attached a condition for regular reunions, saying South Korea must first resume humanitarian projects for the North and hold talks on restarting tours to North Korea’s scenic Diamond Mountain resort, a ministry official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.
The tours, which had been one of the few legitimate sources of hard currency for North Korea, were suspended in 2008 following the shooting death of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean guard.
The official didn’t say what humanitarian projects the North referred to. But South Korean media, including Yonhap news agency, reported that North Korea asked for shipments of 500,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizers.
The sides were meeting for a second day on Wednesday, and the North pressed for South Korea’s position on its demand, Yonhap said, citing an unidentified Seoul official.
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.
Earlier this week, South Korea sent 5,000 tons of rice to flood victims in North Korea, but it was aimed at flood relief and contrasted with the 300,000—400,000 tons of rice that Lee’s two liberal predecessors had shipped to the North annually.
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. It was their seventh meeting since July.
The two Koreas remain technically at war because their 1950—53 conflict ended with a cease—fire, not a peace treaty.