President Park Geun-hye urged North Korea not to break the hearts of separated families again on Friday, a day after Pyongyang threatened to rethink the bilateral agreement to hold the cross-border gatherings.
Presiding over an integrated security meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, Park also expressed hopes that the reunions, slated for Feb. 20-25, would serve as a catalyst to break the impasse in the bilateral relations.
“With the holding of the reunions, I hope that we can find a fresh momentum to improve inter-Korean relations and work together toward peninsular peace and mutual development,” Park said in the meeting with top figures from the military, government and civilian sectors.
“But looking back on the past, a crisis used to flare up whenever there seemed to be signs of a thaw in the bilateral relationship.”
Noting that security and the economy are closely interconnected, Park also called on security leaders to maintain a robust deterrence posture, particularly when an unpredictable Pyongyang steps up its peace offensive.
“Until the North becomes a responsible member of the international community, we should not slacken our readiness. We should always bear in mind that peace is made possible based upon a robust security,” she said.
Renewing its call for the cancellation of the upcoming South Korea-U.S. regular military exercises, the communist state threatened to reconsider Wednesday’s deal to hold the family reunions, which have not been held since 2010 amid strained inter-Korean ties.
On Friday, more than 60 officials from the South Korean Red Cross and Hyundai Asan, a core firm in cross-border economic cooperation, traveled to Mount Geumgangsan, the venue of the reunions, to make preparations for the gatherings.
“We will check all facilities to ensure that the reunions, where many elderly people will gather, can be carried out without trouble. We will, in particular, ensure the heating system functions well,” said Park Geuk, a senior Red Cross official.
Most of the South Korean staff will remain in the mountain resort for the preparation work, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.
Less than 90 South Koreans are to meet their long-lost family members in the North at the reunions. The family reunions were first held in September 1983. Since then, only 25,282 people have been reunited with their loved ones.
In the South, some 129,000 people have submitted applications to meet their relatives in the North since 1988. Of the total, 44.7 percent have already passed away with 3,841 having died last year alone.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)