SKorea agrees ''in principle'' to Red Cross talks with NKorea:

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Seoul, Feb 9 (Yonhap) South Korea told North Korea todaythat it agrees "in principle" to Pyongyang''s earlier proposalto hold Red Cross talks on pending humanitarian issues betweenthe sides, an official said.

Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo, however,said in a briefing that the telegram sent to Pyongyang earlierin the day does not mean that the South has finalised itsdecision to hold talks with the North on issues such asreunions of families split by war.

"We have clarified our principle that we agree on theimmediacy of the need to resolve humanitarian issues,especially the reunions," she said, suggesting that theongoing defense talks between the Koreas will influence thelead-up to Red Cross talks.

Officials of the Koreas held their second day ofcolonel-level talks at the truce village of Panmunjom today,trying to pave the way for a higher-level meeting aftertension spiked sharply over the North''s bombardment of a SouthKorean island last year.

"Whether Red Cross talks will actually be held is anissue to be discussed additionally as we monitor theinter-Korean situation ... after high-level military talks,"Lee said.

North Korea proposed earlier this year that the sidesmeet to discuss a series of humanitarian issues, a gestureapparently aimed at securing economic aid from the South. Inreturn for assistance, the North typically agrees to allow thereunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

Last year, the North demanded massive rice and fertilizeraid in return for routinely held reunions. The Southessentially refused the demand and later suspended what littleremained of its humanitarian assistance after the North''sNovember shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

Millions of Koreans are believed to have been separatedfrom their family members after the Korean War ended in atruce, which has yet to be replaced by a peace treaty. Tens ofthousands of South Koreans are on a waiting list for a chanceto be reunited.

South Korea demands that the North make moves thataccount for the Yeonpyeong shelling and the deadly Marchsinking of a South Korean warship before Seoul can considerresuming exchanges with Pyongyang.

Seoul officials also demand that Pyongyang reaffirm itsintention to drop its nuclear arms ambitions in bilateraltalks with Seoul. (Yonhap)

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