Talks on family reunions in the works

SEOUL • The South Korean Red Cross has proposed talks with its North Korean counterpart early next month, on arranging a reunion of families who were separated by the 1950 to 1953 Korean War, officials said yesterday.

The proposal follows an inter-Korean agreement, reached earlier this week, that committed both sides to organise a reunion sometime around the Chuseok harvest festival holiday on Sept 27.

An official from the South's Unification Ministry said the initial Red Cross proposal was for working-level talks to begin on Sept 7 at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

The last family reunion was held at a North Korean mountain resort in February last year, and was the first such event for more than three years.

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

The reunion programme began in earnest after a historic North-South summit in 2000, but the waiting list has always been far larger than the numbers that could be accommodated.

Most have 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 - 12 per cent of them aged over 90 - are wait-listed for an eventual reunion, but only several hundred can be chosen each time.

The reunion programme began in earnest after a historic North-South summit in 2000, but the waiting list has always been far larger than the numbers that could be accommodated. The decision to organise a new reunion was part of a deal the two Koreas secured earlier this week, to defuse sky-high military tensions that had pushed the two rivals to the brink of an armed clash.

The two sides have organised reunions in the past, only for the North to cancel at the last minute, citing some perceived insult or display of aggression from the South.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'Talks on family reunions in the works'. Print Edition | Subscribe