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North Korea on Sunday accepted the South's proposal for talks next Friday on holding a reunion next month of families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War, but the two sides have yet to agree on the venue for such talks.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency quoted a statement of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea as saying, "north and south Red Cross working-level talks shall be held on Aug. 23, as proposed by the south side."
The committee also proposed a working-level meeting one day before Thursday to discuss resumption of a stalled inter-Korean tourism project focusing on the Mt. Kumgang resort, located on North Korea's east coast just north of the inter-Korean border.
The statement was issued in response to the South's proposal to hold the Red Cross talks, which was conveyed to the North through a channel at the truce village of Panmunjeom last Friday.
But while the South had proposed the talks be held at Pammunjeom, the North Korean statement suggested they be held instead at Mt. Kumgang.
South Korea's Yonhap News Agency said that while Seoul welcomed Pyongyang's acceptance of its proposal for talks Friday on family reunions, it again proposed Panmunjeom as the venue.
The development comes after the two Koreas last Wednesday agreed to reopen a joint industrial zone in Kaesong, North Korea, that has been closed for more than four months.
"Now that the issue of the zone has entered the phase of solution, the tours to Mt. Kumgang have to be resumed and this will be very beneficial to improving the north-south ties," the North Korean statement said.
Regarding the North's offer for back-to-back talks on that issue, the South Korean government said more discussions would be needed to determine its stance, according to Yonhap.
The tours by South Koreans to the Mt. Kumgang resort, which was managed by South Korea's Hyundai Asan Corp., a business arm of the Hyundai Group, were suspended in 2008 after a Seoul housewife was shot dead there by a North Korean soldier as she was strolling along a beach.
The North's statement said, "The working-level talks shall discuss package issues of the south side's concern, including the issue of preventing the recurrence of the tourist case, the issue of ensuring personal safety and the issue of property."
The statement agreed to South Korean President Park Geun Hye's proposal, made in a speech last Thursday, for the next round of family reunions to be held on the occasion of the Chuseok, the Korean thanksgiving day that falls on Sept. 19 this year.
The two Koreas have so far held 18 reunions of separated families, bringing together more than 20,000 family members who had not seen each other since the war. But none have been held since late 2010 due to strained ties.
Yonhap reported that some 73,000 people in the country have requested to meet with their relatives in the North, and about 80 percent of them are over the age of 70, adding urgency to the issue of family reunions.
The North Korean statement called the agreement on the Kaesong industrial zone, which was abruptly shut down in early April when the North pulled out its 53,000 workers hired by the 123 South Korean plants, "a shining fruition of the unanimous desires and active support by all the Koreans for reconciliation, unity, peace, reunification and prosperity."
"Now is the time for the north and the south to make joint efforts for the improvement of the north-south ties and peace and common prosperity on the Korean Peninsula," it said.
However, in a possible hurdle for improved North-South ties, South Korea and the United States plan to launch their annual two-week joint war exercise on Monday, which North Korea has strongly condemned in the past as a prelude to war.
The computer-aided Ulchi Freedom Guardian will mobilize about 50,000 South Korean forces and approximately 30,000 U.S. servicemen, including some 3,000 from the United States and other bases in the Pacific region.
Along with the war exercise, the South Korean government will also hold a separate four-day emergency exercise from Monday, Yonhap reported.
It said the annual local drill, involving administrative bodies and public employees nationwide, is designed to examine the government's readiness for dealing with potential terrorist attacks and military provocations from the North.
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