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Park calls for more family exchanges with N. Korea

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Published : 2014-03-04 20:45
Updated : 2014-03-04 20:45

President Park Geun-hye has ordered officials to open talks with North Korea to allow letter exchanges and video reunions for families separated by the Korean War, which ended more than 60 years ago.

Stressing that time is running out for millions of separated families in the South and North, the president said the government has to seek ways to help them reunite with their long-lost kin before they die. The remark came only three days after she suggested holding the family reunions on a regular basis, in a nationally televised address.

“The reason I proposed holding reunions of separated families on March 1 Independence Day is because they have no time to wait to meet their loved ones,” she said during a Cabinet meeting held at Cheong Wa Dae.
President Park Geun-hye speaks during a Cabinet meeting at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Tuesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

“The Unification Ministry and the Red Cross should hold talks with the North to realize not only (the plan) to regularize the (face-to-face) reunions but also to allow letter exchanges and video reunions,” she said. The president also mentioned that the government should confirm whether family members in the North are still alive.

Pyongyang has not responded to Seoul’s proposal yet. Skeptics say it still remains to be seen whether the North will accept Seoul’s proposal to hold reunions on a regular basis as Pyongyang believes its people’s contact with outsiders could weaken its system of dynastic rule.

In late February, South-North Korean family reunions took place at Mount Geumgangsan resort between long-lost parents, children and siblings who had had no contact since the Korean War. About 100 families from each side reunited with their loved ones for the first time since the 1950-53 Korean War. The reunions of separated families were the first in more than three years.

After the reunions, experts on inter-Korean relations and the local media pointed out that such gatherings should be held regularly to give chances for the family members involved, many in their 70s and 80s, to reunite.

According to government data, 129,264 people have been registered as having relatives in the North. Nearly 45 percent of them have passed away, with an average of 4,000 dying each year since 2004.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)

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