SEOUL • Families torn apart by the Korean War six decades ago are to reunite briefly near the heavily fortified border of North Korea and South Korea next month. The deal was reached following all-night talks between their respective Red Cross branches.
The reunions will be the first since 170 families embraced in emotional scenes in February last year. The agreement follows the negotiated end to a recent armed confrontation across the border.
"The South and the North shared the view that we will work to fundamentally resolve humanitarian issues," the South's Unification Ministry said yesterday. The reunions will be held from Oct 20-26 at Mount Kumgang resort just north of the border, where previous reunions have been held, with 100 participants from each country.
Seoul was understood to have been pushing for a date before a major North Korean political anniversary on Oct 10 - a massive military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers' Party - fearing Pyongyang might use the occasion to engage in a provocative act that could scupper the reunions altogether. There was speculation that the North might also launch a long-range rocket - a move that would trigger fresh United Nations sanctions and raise tensions on the divided peninsula.
Nearly 130,000 South Koreans looking for family members in the North have registered with the government in Seoul since 1988, but only about 66,000 are still alive, with most aged 70 or more.
Some critics say the reunion programme works too slowly and involves too few families. Many elderly people on both sides die before they can reconnect with loved ones. South Korea seeks the reunions as a top priority, but the North has been reluctant.
The agreement calls for more talks to pave the way for further reunions, beyond those next month.
The reunion programme began 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.
Pyongyang has accused Seoul of spinning the settlement as a North climbdown, and warned it would tear up the entire deal - including the family reunions - if the South continued making "wild remarks".
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE