August 26, 2013 09:38
Families separated by the Korean War will be reunited for the first time since 2010 on Sept. 25 to 30 under an agreement reached by the two Koreas last Friday.
The reunion will take place at the Mt. Kumgang resort in the North.
One hundred people from each side will be allowed to meet their relatives from the other side. The two sides will check from Thursday if the people on their respective lists are still alive and exchange final lists on Sept. 16.
Video calls will be arranged on Oct. 22-23 for those who are too old or too sick to come to the meetings. Forty families from each side will be allowed to participate.
The two Koreas also agreed in principle to hold another round of family reunions in November, but more talks will take place once the first round is over.
In Friday's talks, South Korea proposed that 200 people from each side should be allowed to meet their relatives in Seoul or Pyongyang, but the North reduced the number to 100 and insisted on the scenic Mt. Kumgang resort, where a reunion center already exists.
A government official here said Seoul accepted this because the North agreed to a second round of reunions. Seoul was initially wary of the Mt. Kumgang venue because that could be seen as linking the reunions with lucrative package tours to the resort which the North is also keen to resume.
North Korean delegates explained recent flood damage to their South Korean counterparts but did not try to extract payment in rice, fertilizer or cement as in the past.
The two sides will keep working on other issues concerning separated families such as regular family reunions, letter exchange across the border and checking their whereabouts.
South Korea also asked the North to find out how many South Korean prisoners of war are still alive and where they live, and let them exchange letters with their relatives in the South, but the North demurred.
"It wasn't easy to have a discussion on the [POW] issue given that the North officially doesn’t acknowledge the existence of South Korean prisoners of war or abduction victims at all," another government official here said. "We'll keep trying."
The agreement on the family reunions following an earlier decision to reopen the joint-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex is eventually expected to lead to resumption of the Mt. Kumgang package tours. South Korea already proposed that the two sides meet there on Sept. 25 to discuss them. The North wants to discuss them even sooner.
Pyongyang said the two issues are "interrelated," but Seoul is keen to keep them apart so the reunions cannot be used as leverage for a business project.
The package tours have been halted since a North Korean soldier shot dead a South Korean tourist who had strayed off-limits in July 2008. Seoul has since been demanding an apology for the incident and guarantees that it will not happen again.
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com