North Korea proposes talks with South on split families

S Korea`s Red Cross says it would consider the proposal positively.

Seoul: North Korea has proposed holding Red Cross talks with the South on reunions of families split by the Korean War in what would be a rare contact between the rivals locked in a row over the sinking of a South Korean naval ship.

North Korea`s Red Cross chief made the proposal to his counterpart in the South to arrange the meetings at the Mount Kumgang resort just north of the Korean armed border, the North`s KCNA news agency said on Saturday.

The proposal was issued in the "hope that humanitarian cooperation between the North and the South would (accelerate) with the reunion of separated families and their relatives," it said.

South Korea`s state-sponsored Red Cross said it would consider the proposal in a positive manner and discuss it with the government.

The two Koreas have been in a standoff since Seoul accused Pyongyang of attacking one of its ships in March, killing 46 sailors. Pyongyang has denied the charge and said it would retaliate by force if the South imposed sanctions.

South Korea has offered a one-off aid to the North in recent weeks as relief for the flood damage that ravaged large stretches of farmland and homes.

Conciliatory gestures

The offer was part of a series of conciliatory gestures on both sides after a period of heated rhetoric, including threats of armed confrontation. The North has replied with a specific list of emergency relief items it sought.

Even before the flooding, North Korea was believed to be under intense economic pressure that deepened with international sanctions imposed last year for its nuclear test. A botched currency reform measure last year that led to inflation also provoked anger from consumers who had their savings wiped out.

Dialogue between the two Koreas have been all but cut off since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008 and declared there would be no aid for the destitute neighbor until the North abandoned its nuclear arms program.

The North agreed to the reunions last year timed to the Korean fall harvest festival. The event was called off in 2008 after the shooting death of a South Korean tourist at Mount Kumgang that sharply raised tensions.

About 20,000 Koreans from both sides have taken part in the brief reunions of separated family members since the two Koreas tried to improve ties in 2000 after their first summit meetings since the 1950-53 Korean War.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Friday expressed hope that commercial ties could be expanded with the North by building a second factory park when the two rivals are able to defuse tensions.

The conciliatory gestures coincided with preparations in the North for the biggest meeting of its ruling Workers` Party in 30 years, possibly to anoint the youngest son of leader Kim Jong-il as his successor.

While the North`s capital was readying for the party conference, the timing of the event remained shrouded in mystery, with no indication in official media that it was about to get under way.

KCNA reported on Saturday that Kim Jong-il toured a mine in the North`s rugged northern province, with the date of the "field guidance" conspicuously absent in the dispatch.

Bureau Report