North, South Korea exchange list of candidates for family reunions

Pictures belonging to Mr Im Chae Yong, 63, taken during the latest inter-Korean reunion in 2014 with his elder brother, are seen during an interview with Reuters at his home in Seoul, South Korea, on Sept 23, 2015.
Pictures belonging to Mr Im Chae Yong, 63, taken during the latest inter-Korean reunion in 2014 with his elder brother, are seen during an interview with Reuters at his home in Seoul, South Korea, on Sept 23, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - North and South Korea on Monday (Oct 5) moved a step closer to a rare reunion for families separated for decades by the Korean War by exchanging a list of candidates for the event this month.

Red Cross officials from both sides met in the border truce village of Panmunjom and exchanged the list after ensuring candidates still have living relatives on the other side, the South's unification ministry said.

On Thursday, Seoul is set to release the final list of about 100 people who will travel to the North's Mount Kumgang resort for the Oct 20 to Oct 26 reunion, it said, adding Pyongyang would do the same.

The reunion would be only the second such event in the last five years, but there are concerns that North Korea may still cancel at the last minute - as it has done in the past.

Scrapping the event would effectively tear up an agreement the two Koreas reached in August to de-escalate tensions that had pushed them to the brink of armed conflict.

Last week, North Korea threatened to cancel the reunion, citing "reckless" remarks by South Korean President Park Geun Hye on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme and human rights record.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York a week ago, Ms Park described the North's pursuit of a nuclear deterrent as a global threat and urged the international community to join in pushing Pyongyang down a different path.

She also called on Pyongyang to improve its human rights record.

Millions of people were separated during the 1950-1953 Korean conflict that sealed the division between the two Koreas.

Most died without having a chance to see or hear from their families on the other side of the border, across which all civilian communication is banned.

About 66,000 South Koreans - many of them in their 80s or 90s - are on the waiting list for an eventual reunion, but only a very limited number can be chosen each time.

Pyongyang has a lengthy track record of manipulating the divided families' issue for political purposes, refusing proposals for regular reunions and cancelling scheduled events over some perceived slight.

The reunion programme began in earnest after a historic North-South summit in 2000, and was initially an annual event, but strained cross-border relations have allowed only one reunion in the past five years.