North Korea agrees to talks on dam and reunions


POSTED: Tuesday, October 13, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea—North Korea agreed to hold talks with South Korea later this week on nonmilitary matters, officials said here Tuesday, a day after the North tested short-range missiles off its eastern coast.

Officials from the two Koreas plan to meet Wednesday at a North Korean border city to discuss how to prevent floods in the Imjin River, which runs through their heavily armed border, the Unification Ministry in Seoul reported.

Six South Koreans were killed last month when North Korea released water from a dam upriver without notice, causing a flash flood. The North said the emergency release of water was necessary because rain and floodwaters had threatened to breach the dam. Afterward, the South demanded an apology in addition to talks to prevent such episodes.

Separately, the Red Cross societies from both sides were set to meet Friday to discuss reunions of families separated by the Korean War. Two weeks ago, they organized a round of family reunions for the first time in two years, furthering the prospects of reconciliation between North and South Korea, whose relations had chilled over the North's nuclear and missile tests this year.

In the past, South Korea shipped food aid as a humanitarian gesture after such family reunions. North Korea is expected to seek food shipments during the new round of Red Cross talks this week while South Korea demands regular family reunions.

“;The talks will become a turning point in inter-Korean relations,”; Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “;In that sense, the North's missile tests are significant in their timing.”;

Still, the test firings on Monday were the first in three months and were seen as both a provocation and a puzzle—an ominous reminder of the North's military muscle but also confounding because it has been trying to get Washington to start bilateral talks.

“;North Korea is blowing hot and cold, taking both conciliatory and hard-line gestures to force its opponents to decide,”; Yang said. “;The North sees the United States dither in starting bilateral talks with it, so by launching and preparing missiles, it is offering a reminder of why it needed to be engaged.”;