|A National Red Cross worker gets ready to receive applications for dispersed family reunions on Jan. 7, after the government suggested a relevant meeting. (Yonhap News)|
North Korea on Friday made an abrupt proposal for the reunions of separated families living in both Koreas, and the South Korean government immediately welcomed the proposal.
The North Korean Red Cross proposed holding the reunions at the Mount Kumgang resort "at a convenient time" after the Lunar New Year holiday, Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency said, adding that the proposal was made through a telephone message sent to the president of South Korea's Red Cross.
The North said in the message that the separated family reunions are in accordance with the wishes at home and abroad to improve inter-Korean relations.
Seoul's Unification Ministry welcomed the North Korean proposal, confirming that the Red Cross message was delivered through the Panmunjom channel at 6:30 p.m.
Pyongyang blamed Seoul for the long delays in the separated family reunions in the message, the ministry said, adding that it will send a reply on details of the reunions, including the timing and preparatory consultations, to the North later.
Earlier this month, South Korea proposed holding family reunions in time for the Lunar New Year Holiday, which falls on Jan. 31.
But the North rejected Seoul's offer, citing, among other things, South Korea's upcoming joint military exercises with the U.S.
Family reunions are a highly emotional issue on the divided Korean Peninsula. Most of the separated family members are in their 70s and 80s and want to see their long-lost relatives before they pass away.
The sides had agreed to hold family reunions at Mount Kumgang, a mountain resort on North Korea's east coast, in September last year. However, the North abruptly canceled the reunions at the last minute.
The North's proposal came hours after South Korea called on Pyongyang Friday to back up with action its recent conciliatory overture, a move by Seoul that underscores its deep distrust of Pyongyang's charm offensive.
South Korea has been cautious of the North's overture that called for, among other things, the cancellation of upcoming joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S. The North also called for a halt to all slander and military hostility between the two Koreas.
South Korea questioned whether the North is serious, citing Pyongyang's track record of carrying out provocations after making conciliatory gestures toward South Korea. (Yonhap News)