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Nuclear Aid Issues Overshadow Korean Talks

South Korean soldiers walk on the rail to close a border gate after a North Korean train, background, crossed the border line to return their hometown during the railway test-run at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Goseong, east of Seoul, 17 May 2007. North and South Korea held more talks Thursday on cross-border rail services and other joint projects, but delays in Seoul's rice aid and in Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament overshadowed the meeting. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Lim Chang-Won
Seoul (AFP) May 31, 2007
High-level inter-Korean reconciliation talks soured Thursday when the North protested at the South's delay in delivering its promised rice aid. The four-day ministerial talks are aimed at discussing joint projects to ease tensions. But they hit a snag over Seoul's insistence in withholding aid until Pyongyang starts shutting down its nuclear programme.

The North's chief delegate Kwon Ho-Ung raised the matter when he met his southern counterpart, Unification Minister Lee Jae-Joung, Thursday afternoon.

"Our side reaffirmed our position and said we faced difficulties in implementing an agreement on our rice aid," said the South Korean delegation's spokesman Ko Gyoung-Bin.

"We told them there is no shift in the government's position."

Ko said the South explained the reason for holding up the first shipment, which was supposed to be sent in late May. "We will try to solve it through further discussion."

Asked if the dispute was impeding progress on other issues, Ko replied: "It's (too) early to say so."

The South says it will not dispatch its first shipment until the North begins honouring a six-nation disarmament deal.

The communist state says the two issues are unrelated and has urged the South to "keep its promise."

At the first full session on Wednesday, South Korea reiterated appeals to the North to close its Yongbyon reactor, the first step in the disarmament agreement reached in February.

The North refuses to move until a banking dispute with the United States is resolved. Kwon has blamed the US for the delay.

The South is also pressing for the gradual regular opening of two cross-border railway lines following a historic May 17 test run, and greater economic cooperation.

To ease military tensions it proposes the resumption of talks between defence ministers, after the first and only meeting almost seven years ago.

In a new sign of such tensions, the North's navy late Wednesday accused South Korea of infiltrating warships deep into North Korean waters across the disputed Yellow Sea border.

"This is a serious military provocation creating a touch-and-go situation in those waters and an intolerable challenge to the high degree of patience and self-restraint exercised by KPA (North Korean) servicepersons," it said in a statement on official media.

The navy command said it would take "due measures" unless South Korea, which denied any incursions, stopped "reckless military provocations."

At this week's talks the North has also taken the South to task for its joint military exercises with the US and urged it to repeal the tough anti-communist National Security Law.

Relations between the two nations soured last year with the North's missile launches and nuclear test, but improved after the February nuclear deal.

At the last ministerial round in March, the South agreed in principle to resume annual rice and fertiliser aid. But it delayed the first shipment of rice, out of an annual total of 400,000 tons, pending progress on nuclear disarmament.

The North refuses to move until it receives 25 million dollars which had been frozen in a Macau bank under US-inspired sanctions.

The US said the accounts were unfrozen in March but the North has had problems finding a foreign bank to handle the transfer.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Berlin (UPI) May 30, 2007
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