Koreas Agree to Resume Family Reunions ; in Latest Sign of a Thaw, Nations End 3-Year Hiatus in Meetings of Relatives

By Sang-Hun, Choe | International Herald Tribune, August 24, 2013 | Go to article overview

Koreas Agree to Resume Family Reunions ; in Latest Sign of a Thaw, Nations End 3-Year Hiatus in Meetings of Relatives


Sang-Hun, Choe, International Herald Tribune


The emotionally charged program for families separated since the Korean War was suspended three years ago as governmental relations soured.

In a sign of improving ties, North and South Korea agreed on Friday to revive an emotionally charged humanitarian program next month that arranges meetings of family members who have not seen one another since the Korean War six decades ago.

After a day of negotiations, held at the border village of Panmunjom, officials from both capitals agreed that the two Koreas would hold a round of family reunions involving 100 people from each side at the Diamond Mountain resort in southeastern North Korea on Sept. 25-30. Another round is expected in November, they said.

Separately, they also agreed to hold online family reunions on Oct. 22-23, allowing 40 families from each side to meet through video conference.

The revival of family reunions after a three-year hiatus was expected to further accelerate the rival Korean governments' move toward a thaw after months of heightened tensions earlier this year. It was particularly welcome news for 73,000 South Koreans -- half of them older than 80 -- who are on a waiting list for a chance to meet with relatives in the North. Of them, only 100 will be selected by lottery for the reunions in September. North Korea is believed to give priority to those considered loyal to its leadership.

"South and North Korea agreed to continue their efforts to make family reunions regular events, help families learn the fate of their relatives and exchange letters," read the joint agreement signed on Friday.

Hopes for improved ties began to rise in recent weeks as the rival governments abandoned their confrontational language of earlier this year and tensions appeared to ease. On Aug. 14, the two Koreas agreed to reopen a joint industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong that was shut four months ago.

During the talks Friday, the chief North Korean negotiator, Pak Yong-il, urged South Korea to seize the momentum created by the Kaesong agreement, South Korean officials said.

In a sharp turnaround from its threats of war earlier in the year, North Korea has been calling for inter-Korean reconciliation, proposing talks to revive a number of joint projects suspended in recent years, including South Korean tours to Diamond Mountain, a scenic destination that was visited by nearly two million South Koreans from 1998 to 2008, when the jointly operated tour program was suspended.

But South Korean officials remain wary of the North's motives. In the past, North Korea has demanded and often won large humanitarian aid shipments from the South in return for agreeing to family reunions. The agreement Friday made no mention of aid for the North. …

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