Monday, September 13, 2010

Korean cross-border tensions easing

South's first aid shipment to its neighbor since the Cheonan warship row in March is the latest sign cross-border tensions are easing.

The aid, enough for 100,000 people for 100 days, is expected to reach the country's hard-hit north-west within a month.

The $8.5m package, to be funded by the government, is the south's first aid shipment to North Korea since the sinking of a warship in March reduced bilateral relations to their lowest point for years. Seoul says its vessel was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, a claim Pyongyang still denies.

The thaw in inter-Korean ties came amid reports that the failing health of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, had delayed the opening of a ruling party meeting in Pyongyang, where he was expected to name his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor.

The countries may resume reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean war, which ended in an uneasy armistice but no peace treaty. 

Hopes were also raised today for a resumption of multiparty talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Stephen Bosworth, Washington's special envoy to North Korea, said he was "optimistic" that Pyongyang could be persuaded to rejoin the talks. "I would stress we are not setting any timetables," said Bosworth, who is in the region attempting to revive the process.

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