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Senate bill calls for greater efforts to unite Korean-Americans with long-lost relatives in N. Korea

Two U.S. senators have introduced a bill directing the State Department to prioritize efforts to help realize family reunions between Korean-Americans and their long-lost relatives in North Korea.

Sens. Mark Kirk and Mark Warner brought the Divided Families Reunification Act to the Senate on Wednesday, with Sen. Cory Gardner co-sponsoring the legislation, according to congressional records and the office of Kirk.

The bill directs the State Department to prioritize discussions with members of the Korean-American community who still remain separated from their families in the North. It also calls for creating a regular dialogue mechanism between the State Department and Korean-American separated families.

"Time is running out for these reunifications to happen, and more families will have no knowledge of their loved ones' whereabouts," Kirk said in a statement. "We need to make sure that there is an official channel to assist in the reunification of Korean-Americans, including the 60,000 Korean-Americans in Illinois. This bipartisan bill gives a voice and hope to the thousands of families seeking reunification."

Warner said that the legislation will encourage the State Department to prioritize opening up family reunion opportunities to Korean-Americans by requiring discussions on the matter during bilateral negotiations with South Korea.

"These families have waited long enough," Warner said.

Millions of Koreans remain separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

Since the first summit of their leaders in 2000, the rival Koreas have held 20 rounds of face-to-face family reunion events, including the latest one in late October. But these reunions did not involve Korean-Americans.

More than 100,000 Korean-Americans are believed to have loved ones in the North.

Last year, the two senators introduced a similar resolution calling for North Korea to permit reunions between Korean-Americans and their relatives in the North. It also urged the State Department to prioritize efforts to help realize such reunions and called on South Korea to give Korean-Americans opportunities to participate in such reunion programs. (Yonhap)

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