Back To Top

Seoul to prioritize family reunions in N. Korea talks

South Korea plans to prioritize resolving the issue of separated families during the high-level talks that the North has agreed to hold between late October and early November, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Monday.

Seoul has regarded the issue as an urgent humanitarian one, underscoring that the reunions of the families, divided since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, should take place regularly regardless of the political situation, considering the old age of the family members.

“Since we proposed the high-level talks in August, we said that the issue of separated families is the most urgent and important issue. Thus, it is necessary to raise the issue at the high-level meeting,” said ministry spokesperson Lim Byeong-cheol during a regular press briefing.

As to the possibility of the two sides holding another round of the family reunions this year, Lim said, “Should the two Koreas reach consensus over the issue, another round of the reunions will be considered as a crucial item on the agenda.”

A day earlier, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae expressed his resolve to find a “special solution” to the issue of separated families. “It is about the time for the two Koreas to consult on finding a more special solution to the issue,” he said.
Separated family members between South and North Korea shed tears in their reunion at a meeting place in Mount Geumgangsan, North Korea, in February. (Yonhap)
Separated family members between South and North Korea shed tears in their reunion at a meeting place in Mount Geumgangsan, North Korea, in February. (Yonhap)

Apart from holding the reunions, Seoul also hopes to institute a system to ascertain whether relatives on each side are still alive and allow the divided families to exchange handwritten letters on a regular basis.

Skeptics say it remains to be seen whether the North will accept any proposal to regularly hold the reunions as Pyongyang believes that granting its people increased contact with outsiders could pose a challenge to the regime’s hold on power.

According to government data, 129,264 people have been registered as having relatives in the communist neighbor. A considerable number of them have already passed away with an average of 4,000 people dying each year since 2004.

The ministry said that it had not yet determined the date for the second round of the high-level talks, but would make its decision after taking into account practical working-level considerations. The North Korean delegation, which visited Incheon last Saturday to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games, agreed to hold the talks at a date chosen by Seoul.

At the envisioned talks, the North Korean side is likely to talk about resuming the long-stalled tours to Mount Geumgangsan and lifting Seoul’s so-called May 24 measures that ban inter-Korean economic exchanges and cooperation.

Regarding the May 24 measures, the Unification Ministry said that Seoul’s stance on the issue remained unchanged. The measures were put in place in 2010 after the North torpedoed a South Korean corvette, killing 46 sailors. The North denies responsibility for the attack.

“Responsible steps should be taken by the North to convince the South Korean public (of its intentions toward reconciliation),” said Lim.

Meanwhile, President Park Geun-hye expressed her expectations that the North would show its sincerity about improving inter-Korean relations through action, while commenting on the visit by the North’s top-level delegation. She also stressed the need to hold inter-Korean talks on a regular basis.

“The delegation’s visit, I hope, will serve as a chance for the two sides to work together through dialogue to open the door of peace,” she said during a meeting of her senior secretaries. “Beyond just onetime talks, we need to hold the talks regularly so that we can pave the way for peaceful reunification.”

The 11-member delegation drew keen media attention as it included the reclusive state’s top military and political heavyweights: Hwang Pyong-so, director of the North Korean military’s General Political Bureau; Choe Ryong-hae, a secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party; and Kim Yang-gon, director of the party’s North Korean United Front Department.

The delegation did not meet with Park, citing time constraints.

By Song Sang-ho (
catch table
Korea Herald daum