North Korea on Thursday accepted Seoul's proposal to hold talks to arrange family reunions for people separated by the 1950-53 Korean War at the neutral border village of Panmunjom.
|An elderly woman, who was separated from her family members during the 1950-53 Korean War, registers for the upcoming reunion on Tuesday. (Yonhap News)|
The decision by Pyongyang to consent to the venue for the talks will allow the two sides to meet on Friday so they can work out details for the family reunions to take place on or around the Chuseok holiday that falls on Sept. 19 of this year. Chuseok is equivalent to Thanksgiving Day and is celebrated in both Koreas.
The North had originally insisted on the talks being held at the Mount Kumgang resort on the east coast.
If the planned talks make headway, it will mark the first time since late 2010 that families from the two Koreas will be able to meet relatives they have not seen in over six decades.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye first called for family reunions to resume in her Liberation Day speech last week. The two sides held 18 separate family reunions on and off since 2000.
In South Korea alone, there are some 73,000 people who have requested to meet with their relatives in the North.
The Ministry of Unification said the North sent its formal acceptance through official communication channels earlier in the day.
Pyongyang also called for working-level talks to start as soon as possible on the resumption of tours to the Mount Kumgang resort that has been closed for nearly five years.
The ministry said that the North wanted the Kumgang meeting to be held in late August or early September instead of Sept. 25 as proposed by Seoul.
The tours were suspended after the shooting death of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean guard in July 2008. Following the incident, Seoul halted all tours to the mountain resort after the North declined to give solid assurances to prevent such an incident from happening again.
Related to the North's acceptance, a ministry official said that Seoul plans to send a list of its chief delegates to the meeting within the day.
"The government aims to allow as many people to meet as possible and that all effort will be made to have an open mind so such meetings can take place," a ministry official, who declined to be identified, said.
On the issue of Pyongyang wanting to hold Mount Kumgang talks as soon as possible, the official said policymakers will review the offer and make an appropriate reply.
"Seoul never insisted that family reunions take place before the talks on Mount Kumgang although in principle the two issues must be kept separate," he said.
The latest response by the North effectively resolves the standoff over the date and venue of talks that fueled uncertainty over them taking place on time.
A delay in the family reunion talks could make it difficult for meetings between separated family members before the Chuseok holiday. (Yonhap News)