|Ministry of Unification (Yonhap)|
The Ministry of Unification on Thursday said it will spend 800 million won ($727,000) to carry out a survey of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, to check their status and to prepare for possible future family reunions.
The ministry decided to conduct the survey of around 50,000 members of divided families during a meeting of a civilian-government committee on inter-Korean exchanges, presided over by Unification Minister Lee In-young.
The survey, which will run from April to October, will check information on the surviving family members as well as their wishes for possible family reunions in the future.
This will mark the third such review by the ministry since 2011. Under relevant laws, the government is required to survey members of separated families every five years to check their status and whether they still want to meet their relatives in the North.
Of the 133,406 South Koreans who have registered to be reunited with members of their families in the North since 1988, only 49,452, or 37 percent, were alive as of December, according to the ministry’s data. Over 64 percent of the survivors are aged 80 or older, calling attention to the urgency of reunions.
The two Koreas have held 20 reunions since the first one in 2000, with the last face-to-face meetings in August 2018 at the Kumgangsan resort on the North’s east coast.
“North Korea appears to be monitoring the new US administration’s policy on the Korean Peninsula and has taken a ‘wait-and-see’ approach for the future,” Lee said at the start of the meeting, evaluating the latest party congress in Pyongyang. “North Korea has left the door of various opportunities open without making its final decision yet. The Unification Ministry will continue to do what it can right now one by one, rather than hoping to achieve an outcome in the short term.”
On Thursday, the committee also approved a plan to spend 4.77 billion won this year as part of a two-year plan to revamp the Demilitarized Zone on the border with North Korea, turning it into a cultural zone.
The ministry will also inject 3.34 billion won into the ongoing joint project for a unified Korean-language dictionary, which started in 2005 to bridge the linguistic gap between the two Koreas.
It has also allocated funds for ministry-run organizations, including 8.46 billion won to cover the operating costs of the Kaesong Industrial District Foundation, 1.92 billion won for a tourism support center at Panmunjom in the DMZ and 3.75 billion won for the Center for Unified Korean Future.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org)