South Korean President urges new talks on separated families

South Koreans bid farewell to their North Korean relatives from the window of a departing bus on the last day of family reuinons at the Mount Kumgang resort area of North Korea on Feb 25, 2014. South Korean President Park Geun Hye on Tuesday, Ma
South Koreans bid farewell to their North Korean relatives from the window of a departing bus on the last day of family reuinons at the Mount Kumgang resort area of North Korea on Feb 25, 2014. South Korean President Park Geun Hye on Tuesday, Mar 4, 2014, called for new talks with North Korea on allowing families separated by the Korean War to exchange letters and hold reunions via video conferencing. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP 

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean President Park Geun Hye on Tuesday called for new talks with North Korea on allowing families separated by the Korean War to exchange letters and hold reunions via video conferencing.

Ms Park said that more than 6,000 people should meet with relatives from the other side every year if all separated families are to see their loved ones at least once before they die, according the president's office.

"Many families do not have time to wait any more," she said, urging her cabinet to push for talks with North Korea on letter exchanges and video reunions for separated families.

Ms Park last week said the two Koreas should hold family reunions on a regular basis, but Pyongyang has not responded to the offer, which came after the two Koreas wrapped up their first reunion in more than three years.

The six-day reunion last month at the North's Mount Kumgang resort brought together about 750 people from both sides, an event that raised hopes of a sustainable improvement in volatile cross-border ties.

Because the Korean conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, the two countries remain technically at war, and there is almost no direct contact permitted between their civilian populations.

Millions of Koreans were separated by the 1950 to 1953 war, and the vast majority have since died without having any communication at all with surviving relatives.

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.

Last year alone, 3,800 South Korean applicants for reunions died.

Observers say Pyongyang will be looking for bigger-ticket financial rewards for what it sees as its humanitarian largesse in allowing the reunion to go ahead.

Pyongyang has been pushing Seoul for some time to resume South Korean tours to Mount Kumgang - trips that provided much-needed hard currency in the past.

South Korea suspended the tours after a tourist was shot dead in 2008 by North Korean guards after she strayed from the designated path.

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