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South Korea proposes talks with North Korea

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[July 14, 2008]  SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea's ruling party on Monday proposed holding parliamentary talks with North Korea, which has spurned all official contact over the shooting death of a southern tourist and rejected Seoul's offer to revive reconciliation efforts.

InsuranceHong Joon-pyo, floor leader of the Grand National Party, said the talks are necessary to prevent a further chill in relations between the countries after a North Korean soldier gunned down a 53-year-old housewife at a mountain resort in the North.

The shooting "paradoxically shows why South-North reconciliation is necessary," Hong said.

Relations between the Koreas -- already strained since South Korea's conservative government took power in February -- are at a new low after a soldier fatally shot the South Korean tourist Friday while she was on a trip to the North's Diamond Mountain resort on the east coast. South Korea has criticized the North for killing an innocent civilian and has urged Pyongyang to allow an inquiry by the South.


"The National Assembly should take the initiative in making a breakthrough," Hong said, proposing "political talks" with the North to discuss the shooting and other issues such as peace on the Korean peninsula and food aid to the impoverished North.

National Assembly speaker Kim Hyong-o also told parliament that North Korea should apologize to the bereaved family and South Korean people and also promise such an event will not be repeated.

The North has refused to cooperate in a probe, saying the victim ignored a soldier's warning that she was in a restricted zone and tried to run away, and demanded that the South apologize for suspending tours to the resort.

Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon told reporters a South Korean government investigation team would for now focus on interviewing South Koreans at the resort at the time of the shooting.

Still, he added that the best way to determine the facts would be to "jointly look at the truth of the case with North Korean cooperation."

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South Korean officials have questioned details of the North's account, such as how the victim could have covered such a long distance walking on sand. Also, the victim had two bullet wounds and a witness said he had only heard two shots -- raising questions over the North's claim that its soldier first fired warning shots.

Despite the shooting, South Korea said it would maintain another tour program to the North Korean border city of Kaesong on the western portion of the peninsula.

North Korea on Sunday rejected a proposal by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to resume stalled inter-government reconciliation talks, calling it a "deceitful" tactic to avoid taking responsibility for strained ties.


North Korea suspended talks with the South following the inauguration of Lee's pro-U.S., conservative government in February. Lee's government has criticized human rights violations in the North and has been skeptical of offering unconditional aid to the impoverished country, a sharp departure from the previous decade of liberal South Korean leaders that had fostered warmed ties between the North and South.

The two Koreas are still formally at war because their 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

[Associated Press; By HYUNG-JIN KIM]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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