Published : 2013-08-23 10:34
Updated : 2013-08-23 13:35
South and North Korea began talks Friday to arrange reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
The Red Cross talks, held at the neutral border village of Panmunjom, aim to iron out details for the reunions of people from the two Koreas to meet relatives they have not seen in over six decades.
The reunions are widely expected to take place next month on or around the Chuseok holiday that falls on Sept. 19 this year.
Chuseok is equivalent to Thanksgiving and is celebrated in both Koreas.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye first called for the resumption of the reunions during her Liberation Day speech last week. The two sides had 18 separate family reunions since 2000, with the latest in November 2010.
In South Korea alone, there are some 73,000 people who have requested to meet with their relatives in the North.
In the keynote speech delivered ahead of the closed-door meeting the chief delegates from the two sides expressed hope that progress will be made during the meeting to alleviate the plight of separated families on both sides of the demilitarized zone.
Lee Duck-hang, the head of the Seoul's three-member negotiation team pointed out that since the 1970s the Red Cross talks have been greatly successful in easing inter-Korean relations.
"By bringing about results greater advances can be made in the future, especially compared to the past five years," he said.
The official had said before leaving for the talks that the issue of families separated by the peninsula's division is one of the most urgent tasks of the time, and he will do his best to find a solution to their pain through discussions.
North Korea's chief delegate Park Yong-il, also said the Red Cross talks should contribute to better relations and that if both sides work together there is every reason to think progress can be made. He then cited the recent agreement to reopen the shuttered joint factory park in Gaeseong as an example of what gains can be reached if all sides are willing to resolve their differences.
Related to the talks, the Red Cross and the Ministry of Unification, which handles all inter-Korean exchange, said in the morning session that the two sides exchanged views on the date, place and number of people to be involved in the reunions.
There has been speculation that the South wants the reunions to take place in both Seoul and Pyongyang and to reunite more people with their families than in previous events. The North in the past has insisted that the meetings take place at a meeting center in Mount Kumgang as well as restrict the number of family members to 100 from each side.
The meeting, meanwhile, was arranged after Pyongyang accepted Seoul's choice of venue for the talks on Thursday. The North had initially insisted the talks be held at the Mount Kumgang resort on the communist country's east coast, in an apparent move to link the two issues. The South maintains family reunions are purely a humanitarian concern that needs to be handled separately from other issues.
Pyongyang also called for working-level negotiations aimed at resuming the lucrative tours to the scenic resort to begin in late August or early September instead of Sept. 25 as proposed by Seoul.
South Korea suspended tours to the mountain resort after a South Korean woman was shot dead by a North Korean border guard there in 2008. The project had provided a legitimate source of hard currency to the impoverished communist country.
On the tourism issue, Seoul said it is not adverse to holding the meeting at an earlier date, but said it will make known its views later on. (Yonhap News)