Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae on Friday renewed Seoul’s calls for North Korea to quickly respond to its proposal to hold the reunions of separated families from Feb. 17-22, stressing that it is an urgent humanitarian issue.
|Seoul’s Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae delivers a speech during an annual event to encourage people who miss their hometowns in North Korea at Imjingak in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Friday. (Yonhap)|
“If (Pyongyang) is really willing to address the issue of separated families, it should unconditionally respond to the proposal as soon as possible,” Ryoo said during an event to encourage the families with their loved ones in the North at Imjingak in Paju, Gyeonggi Province.
“It is very regrettable that the North takes an unclear stance even thought it accepted Seoul’s offer to hold the cross-border gatherings.”
Seoul on Monday proposed holding working-level talks with the North on Wednesday at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjeom to work out details of the reunions. But the North did not respond to the offer, frustrating those anxiously waiting to meet their relatives in the North.
Seoul made the proposal days after Pyongyang suggested holding the reunions at "Seoul’s convenience" at the Mount Geumgang resort. The North’s proposal came as the North has stepped up a peace offensive viewed by South Koreans as “deceptive and insincere.”
As the South and the U.S. are to stage their annual military drills from late February, it remains to be seen whether the North would agree to hold the reunions that have not been held since 2010 due to strained inter-Korean ties.
Pyongyang has repeatedly demanded the cancellation of the drills, which it argues are intended to wage a war of invasion against it.
Seoul has recently focused on the humanitarian aspect of the issue of divided families as many of them have died of old age. Of the survivors, 9.3 percent were over 90, 40.5 percent were in their 80s and 30.6 percent in their 70s, according to recent government data.
By Song Sang-ho