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Seoul, Pyongyang agree to reunite war-split Korean families

By Sheetal Sukhija, Asia Pacific News
23 Jun 2018, 09:42 GMT+10

SEOUL, South Korea - In a move that was aimed at strengthening the recent diplomatic overture and further boost reconciliation efforts between the rival nations - North and South Korea met on Friday and made some significant decision. 

Red Cross officials from both the Koreas met with officials in a meeting that reportedly lasted nine long hours - at the end of which Seoul's Unification Ministry issued a statement saying that both countries had agreed to reunite war-split families.

The ministry added that both countries prepared plans to hold temporary reunions of families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War.

Seoul's Unification Ministry added in its statement that the reunions will take place at North Korea's Diamond Mountain resort from August 20 to 26.

It said that both the countries had agreed to each send 100 participants to the August reunions, while adding that people with mobility problems will be allowed to bring a relative to help them.

On Friday, before the meeting started, North Korean delegate Pak Yong Il reportedly said, "If we sternly separate ourselves from the unfortunate past and acquire a strong mindset for the new times, humanitarian cooperation between the North and South will flourish.”

Meanwhile, President of South Korea's Red Crosss Park Kyung-seo expressed hope for talks that could "resolve the grief of our nation."

On Friday, the meeting between Red Cross officials from both the countries was held to chalk out all the details and logistics for the reunions - that are bound to be highly emotional for everyone involved.

Reports noted that the temporary reunion will likely see elderly people, who were driven apart from their families during the turmoil of the war, participating in the significant reunion planned, in the hopes that they would get to see their loved ones before they die.

The two nations held a similar family reunion in 2015, but never after that - since ties between the Koreas worsened due to North Korea's growing pursuit of nuclear long-range missiles - and the hard-line response of Seoul's then-conservative government.

Reports pointed out that both Koreas have banned ordinary citizens from visiting relatives on the other side of the border or contacting them without permission - a rule that has been implemented strictly since the end of the Korean War.

However, since the year 2000, about 20,000 Koreans have participated in 20 rounds of face-to-face temporary reunions held between the two countries.

South Korean officials pointed out on Friday that the limited numbers of reunions are vastly insufficient to meet the demands of aging relatives, who are mostly in their 80s and 90s. 

Further, Seoul's Unification Ministry revealed that over 75,000 of the 132,000 South Koreans who have applied to attend a reunion have died. 

Reports in Seoul revealed that the country uses a computerized lottery to pick participants for the reunions, and in comparison, North Korea is believed to base the decision on loyalty to its authoritarian leadership. 

In April this year, when the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met the South Korean President Moon Jae In in their first ever summit, the two leaders had discussed and had agreed to hold the family reunions.

At the time, the leaders decided to organize the reunion on August 15, which is the anniversary of the Korean Peninsula's independence from Japanese colonial rule at the end of World War II in 1945. 

When the two Korean leaders met again in May, they raised the possibility of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and restoring peace in the region.

Then, following Kim Jong Un’s meeting with the U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore last week, Trump agreed to end ‘provocative’ joint military drills with Seoul and eventually followed through on the vow, with Seoul being in agreement. 

North Korea then turned its focus on its neighbor, and both the countries recently agreed to restore cross-border military hotline communication channels.

Further, the two Koreas have also agreed to field joint teams in some events at the upcoming Asian Games in Indonesia.

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