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Koreas to hold family reunions Feb. 20-25

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Published : 2014-02-05 20:42
Updated : 2014-02-05 20:42

Chief delegates from South (right) and North Korea shake hands after agreeing on when to hold a family reunion event at the truce village of Panmunjeom on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The two Koreas on Wednesday agreed to hold reunions of families displaced by the 1950-53 Korean War from Feb. 20-25 at Mount Geumgangsan, the Unification Ministry said.

The decision was made at working-level talks at the North’s side of the border village of Panmunjeom. Three officials from each side took part in the meeting, which followed the North’s offer two days ago.

The reunion would be the first such event in more than three years. About 100 families from each side would reunite with their loved ones at the scenic mountain resort.

The date was the focal point of the consultations. Seoul initially proposed Feb. 17-22.

The new time frame apparently reflects both sides’ intention to sidestep South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises scheduled for about two months from the end of the month, during which time cross-border tension would likely escalate. Pyongyang is also forecast to stage a large celebration for the Feb. 16 anniversary of the birth of late strongman Kim Jong-il.

Seoul plans to dispatch a group of officials and engineers next week for repair and maintenance of facilities that have been idle since the last gathering in 2010. It would take around two weeks to prepare the venue and make other necessary arrangements.

As for lodging, the two sides agreed to use a main reception center and the Eoikumkang and Mount Kumkang hotels as they did for the two most recent reunions in 2009 and 2010.

But the issue emerged as a source of contention during the preparations for a canceled round of family reunions last September.

“We expressed regret that the North side did not keep its promise for last year’s reunions,” a Unification Ministry told reporters on customary condition of anonymity.

“We made sure that this must not occur again and the North side concurred.”

Since 1985, 18 face-to-face reunions and seven video-link meetings have taken place, involving more than 22,000 people from 4,380 families.

The project was suspended in the wake of the North’s sinking of a South Korean corvette and artillery strike on a border island in the West Sea in 2010. Inter-Korean ties were further strained by a series of nuclear and missile tests by Pyongyang.

As of the end of 2013, only 71,480 survive of the 129,264 South Korean members of separated families registered since 1988, according to ministry data. Of the survivors, more than 11 percent are in their 90s, 42 percent in their 80s and 29 percent in their 70s.

Pyongyang has been cranking up its peace offensive since leader Kim Jong-un called on Seoul to work to enhance cross-border ties in his New Year address.

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)

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