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Two Koreas to hold talks on family reunions

Pyongyang and Seoul set for preparatory talks to set up reunion event for families separated by 1950s war.

Last updated: 04 Feb 2014 05:23
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Millions were separated from family by the 1950-53 war [AFP]

South Korea and North Korea have moved a step closer to resuming reunions for families separated by the Korean War with an agreement to meet to discuss the issue.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said on Monday it had agreed to talks with the North on Wednesday at the border truce village of Panmunjom, where the truce for the 1950s conflict was signed. 

It is the first time in three years that the two countries will meet over reunions, although final agreement could be derailed by a row over South Korea-US military drills due to be held later this month.

"We welcome that the North has finally come forward to discuss the reunion,"  said Kim Eui-Do, a Unification Ministry spokesman.

"Given the urgency of the matter, we will make preparations to hold the reunion as soon as possible," Kim said.

The "urgency" refers to the fact that, 60 years after the war ended, many of those who experienced the division of their families have died, and most of those that survive are in advanced old age.

The reunion programme began in 2000 following an historic inter-Korean summit. Sporadic events since then have seen around 17,000 relatives briefly reunited.

South Korean 'hostility' 

Any reunions agreed would be held at North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort. It would be the first reunion since 2010 when the programme was suspended following the North's shelling of a South Korean border island.

A reunion with about 100 people from each side had been planned last September but Pyongyang cancelled at the last minute, citing unspecified South Korean "hostility".

There are concerns it may do the same this time around, given Pyongyang's strident demands that South Korea cancel annual military exercises with the United States that are scheduled to kick-off at the end of February.

Seoul has made it clear the annual drills, which are routinely condemned by the North as provocative rehearsals for invasion, will go ahead.

Jeung Young-Tae, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said the families should be warned against getting their hopes up a second time.

"They will need to be patient given the potential obstacles down the road, and considering past actions by the North," said Jeung, who accused Pyongyang of using the reunion offer as a bargaining chip.

"It is such a mean strategy given the suffering of separated families in both Koreas," he said.

Millions of Koreans were separated from their family members by the 1950-53 conflict that cemented the division of the peninsula into North and South.

The absence of postal and phone communications mean that most have had no contact in six decades.

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Source:
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