South Korea yesterday announced aid to flood-stricken North Korea and a US envoy discussed the possible resumption of nuclear disarmament talks amid signs of a thaw in cross-border relations.
However, Seoul reiterated that Pyongyang was responsible for a deadly torpedo attack in March on a South Korean warship, an incident that sharply raised regional tensions.
The North has made a series of apparent peace overtures in recent weeks after months of fiery rhetoric.
It freed a US citizen jailed for an illegal border crossing after former US president Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang and returned the crew of a South Korean boat accused of poaching on its fishing grounds.
The North also accepted offers of flood aid and called for the restarting of a reunion program for families separated since the 1950 to 1953 Korean War on the peninsula.
The South’s Red Cross said it would send 10 billion won (US$8.3 million) in aid, including 5,000 tonnes of rice, 10,000 tonnes of cement and 3 million packs of instant noodles.
Its chief Yoo Chong-ha said the rice would go to the town of Sinuiju on the Chinese border, which was swamped last month by an overflowing river.
He said the aid would be mainly financed by the Seoul government.
Yoo also proposed holding talks this Friday with the North’s Red Cross on resuming the family reunions, which have been on hold for a year.
About 80,000 elderly South Koreans are desperate for a brief meeting with family left in the North after the war, but up to 4,000 of them die each year before getting the chance.
Cross-border relations have been icy since Seoul accused Pyongyang in May of the warship attack which killed 46 people. The North vehemently denies the charge.
The South’s defense ministry yesterday released a full 313-page report into the sinking, saying it was acting to quell “groundless” suspicions about who was to blame.
The report reaffirmed conclusions reached by international investigators — that an attack by a North Korean submarine sank the corvette in one of the divided peninsula’s deadliest incidents for decades. China has refused publicly to accept that its ally the North was responsible, and has instead been pushing to revive six-party nuclear disarmament talks to ease tensions.
The US is also involved in the forum along with the two Koreas, Japan and Russia. The North quit the talks in April last year and staged an atomic weapons test — its second — a month later.
The US wants an improvement in inter-Korean relations and a sign that the North is serious about disarmament before the nuclear dialogue restarts.
Stephen Bosworth, US special envoy on North Korea, arrived in South Korea on Sunday for talks on the North and will go on to Japan and China.
Yesterday he held talks with South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek and was later to meet acting South Korean Foreign Minister Shin Kak-soo and Seoul’s chief nuclear negotiator Wi Sung-lac.