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Sunday, June 27, 1999 Published at 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Seoul threatens North Korea aid cut

President Kim (right) is keen to prove his engagement policy is working

South Korea has again warned North Korea that it will cut off aid if no progress is made in talks to reunite families divided by the Korean War nearly 50 years ago.

President Kim Dae-jung said that a second consignment of 100,000 tonnes of fertiliser for the famine-stricken North would be withheld if Pyongyang did not allow family visits.

[ image: Smiles but no breakthroughs in the Beijing talks]
Smiles but no breakthroughs in the Beijing talks
The first consignment was despatched earlier in return for the North agreeing to attend the talks.

South Korean negotiators have now left Beijing after two rounds of apparently fruitless talks - the first direct contact between the two governments for more than a year.

The South Korean team will brief Unification Minister Lim Dong-won on their meetings and prepare for a further meeting scheduled for next week.

Pressure for results

President Kim has said his "sunshine policy" of engagement with the North will continue despite opposition criticism that it has shown few results.

[ image: Naval clashes have raised tensions dramatically]
Naval clashes have raised tensions dramatically
The talks were intended to focus on ways of reuniting up to 10 million families divided by the partition of the Korean peninsula.

But Pyongyang's negotiating team had demanded that Seoul first apologise for the naval clashes earlier this month in a disputed area of the Yellow Sea.

In the worst clash a North Korean gunboat was sunk and around 30 sailors are believed to have drowned.

The North has accused Seoul of provoking the conflict with the backing of the US and says it reserves the right to retaliate.

'Brink of war'

"The more frantically the South Korean authorities drive the situation to the brink of war, the higher the fighting spirit of the People's Army soldiers to annihilate the aggressors is running," the North's naval command said in a communique on Saturday.

[ image: Famine-stricken North Korea is desperate for food aid]
Famine-stricken North Korea is desperate for food aid
Previous government-level talks in April last year broke down over the North's refusal to discuss the issue of divided families.

South Korean officials say the reunions are a matter of urgency as many of the family members concerned are elderly.

However, Vice Unification Minister, Yang Young-Shik, said on Sunday he was optimistic North Korea would soften its stance at the next meeting to ensure it continues to receive aid.

"North Korea appears to be interested in our fertiliser aid," he said. "So we have expectations of progress in the next meeting."

Cruises halted

Sightseeing tours to the North, which have provided it with much needed foreign currency, have also been suspended.

The suspension follows the arrest of a South Korean housewife for allegedly attempting to lure a North Korean tour guide into defecting.

She was released on Friday after being detained for five days.

Seoul says it will not allow the cruise tours to resume until the North can guarantee the tourists' safety.

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