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Korea seeks to double budget for separated families in 2018

South Korea seeks to almost double the budget allotted to projects for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War next year as the resolution of the issue warrants urgency, government officials said Tuesday.

The unification ministry said it has set aside 12 billion won ($10.7 million) for projects to support exchanges of dispersed families in next year's budget proposal, up 97 percent from this year.

Among the money, the government seeks to allocate 8.4 billion won to prepare for possible reunions of separated families, up from this year's 3.4 billion won, it said.

The amount can cover costs for three family reunion events, it said. It was calculated based on a budget in 2003, when South and North Korea held reunions three times, the most so far.

This file photo, taken on Oct. 26, 2015, shows South and North Koreans bidding a tearful farewell after reunions for separated families. (Yonhap)
This file photo, taken on Oct. 26, 2015, shows South and North Koreans bidding a tearful farewell after reunions for separated families. (Yonhap)

An estimated 131,200 dispersed family members are on a waiting list for state-arranged reunion events, of which about 54 percent died as of end-June, according to data by the ministry and the Korean Red Cross.

With President Moon Jae-in putting top priority on resolving the issue, Seoul proposed in July to hold talks to discuss family reunions. But Pyongyang has kept mum toward the offer.

Meanwhile, the ministry has proposed increasing the budget for inter-Korean economic cooperation 78.5 percent to 248 billion won next year.

The rise reflects costs needed to cover President Moon's vision to build new economic belts with North Korea.

The vision includes the re-connection of railways between the two Koreas and a project to lay pipelines in North Korea to transport Russian natural gas to South Korea.

Next year's budget proposal allocated for the Ministry of Unification stands at 1.27 trillion won, up 5.5 percent from 2017, the ministry said.

Some 1 trillion won was set aside for the state inter-Korean cooperation fund, up 8.7 percent from this year.

The government's 2018 budget proposal of 429 trillion won is subject to the National Assembly's approval. (Yonhap)
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