Published : 2014-02-23 13:06
Updated : 2014-02-23 13:16
Hundreds of South Koreans headed to North Korea on Sunday to meet relatives they haven't seen for more than six decades in family reunions taking place amid improved inter-Korean relations.
A total of 357 people departed from the eastern port city of Sokcho and were to arrive at Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort on the North's east coast, later Sunday for three days of reunions with 88 relatives from the North.
The meetings are the second set of reunions in a week. On Saturday, 82 elderly South Koreans, accompanied by 58 family members, came back from the North's mountain resort after three days with their long-lost loved ones.
The latest reunions, the first since 2010, suggest that relations between the two Koreas are improving after high tensions last year over the North's third nuclear test and its threats of war against the South and the United States.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye first proposed a resumption of family reunions in a New Year's news conference last month, saying it could be a first step toward better relations. The North first balked at the idea, but later agreed to resume the reunions and set dates.
Pyongyang demanded at the last-minute, however, that the South postpone planned annual military exercises with the U.S. until after the reunions, saying the meetings could not take place when such drills were under way. The North has long denounced the drills as a rehearsal for invasion.
But Pyongyang later backed down and agreed to hold the reunions as planned.
Millions of Koreans remain separated across the border as the sides are technically in a state of war after the three-year Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. There are no direct means of contact between ordinary civilians of the two countries.
Family reunions are a pressing humanitarian issue on the divided peninsula, as most of the separated family members are in their 70s and 80s, and wish to see their long-lost relatives before they die.
More than 129,200 South Koreans have applied for temporary reunions with their family members and relatives in North Korea since 1988, according to government data. Among them, more than 57,700 people, or 44.7 percent of the applicants, have died, according to the data.
South Korea has repeatedly called for frequent family reunions with North Korea. However, the North has balked at the idea of staging frequent meetings. (Yonhap)