N. Korea proposes working-level talks for family reunions

By 정주원
  • Published : Feb 3, 2014 - 13:22
  • Updated : Feb 3, 2014 - 13:22

Breaking its week-long silence, North Korea on Monday proposed a working-level meeting this week with South Korea on holding family reunions, Seoul's unification ministry said. 

"North Korea accepted our earlier proposal of holding the inter-Korean Red Cross talks to discuss family reunions and offered a meeting on either Wednesday or Thursday at a convenient time for Seoul at the border village of Panmunjom," ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do said during a regular briefing.

It was in response to the South's proposal on Jan. 27 to hold reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War at Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort on North Korea's east coast, on Feb. 17-22.

Seoul made the offer days after the North suggested holding family reunions at a "convenient time" for Seoul in the latest of its conciliatory overtures toward its democratic neighbor.

"We welcome the North's response, albeit belatedly, and we will notify the North within today of the date for the working-level talks after discussions with ministries concerned," Kim added.

Seoul's unification ministry also vowed to be prepared to hold the reunions later this month as it proposed, factoring in the urgent nature of the issue.

Family reunions are a highly emotional issue on the divided Korean Peninsula, as most of the separated family members are in their 70s and 80s, and want to see their long-lost relatives before they die.

Pyongyang, however, did not elaborate on the schedule of the expected family reunions, with experts here long speculating that it is far from clear if the communist country will accept the South's proposal, as South Korea and the U.S. are scheduled to begin their joint military exercises later this month.

While remaining mum to the South's proposal, the North had instead repeated its calls on the South to cancel the joint military exercises.

Pyongyang has claimed that the drills, set to run from late February through April, are a rehearsal for a nuclear war against it, though Seoul and Washington have vowed to go ahead with their joint exercises, calling them defensive in nature.

On Monday, the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper urged the South Korean government to "make a decision of quitting dangerous acts of hurting its brother by inviting foreign nuclear power if it wishes to build trust and improve relations.

"If (South Korea) worsens the inter-Korean ties by launching the nuclear-war rehearsal in collusion with a foreign power, it will be subject to the condemnation of history and the people for treason forever," it said.

The divided Koreas have held more than a dozen rounds of reunions since the mid-1980s, bringing together more than 21,700 family members who had not seen each other since the three-year conflict. (Yonhap News)