Family Reunions Could Be Held Regularly

Cross-border family reunions could become a regular occurrence if the current event proceeds smoothly, experts speculate.

This would give more families separated by the Korean War the chance to meet relatives from the other side of the border. Experts are encouraged because for the first time North Korean officials refrained from nitpicking over the arrangements.

Seoul is likely to resume limited humanitarian aid of rice and fertilizer if Pyongyang is willing to expand the family reunions. Chung Sung-jang at the Sejong Institute said, "The government needs to consider expanding aid to fertilizer and farming equipment if the reunions are broadened or separated families can exchange letters regularly."

Seoul can also expect more cooperation if it agrees to resume package tours to the Mt. Kumgang resort, he added.

The package tours were a significant cash cow for the North before a South Korean tourist was shot dead there in 2008 and they were suspended. Whether the North will apologize for the shooting and pledge to prevent a recurrence remains to be seen.

Pyongyang is keen for Seoul to end a ban on cross-border trade and new investment in the North imposed in 2010 after the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

"The North could revive the issue of South Korean prisoners of war who are still held there or developing special economic zones to lure investment from the South," said Cho Han-bum of the Korea Institute for National Unification.

But unless palpable economic benefits for the North materialize soon, some pundits worry, the mood could swing back to icy again.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 21, 2014 10:19 KST