February 26, 2014 10:14
The latest rounds of cross-border reunions of families separated by the Korean War came to a close on Tuesday. They were the first reunions in three years and four months.
Through the events, 455 South Koreans and 268 North Koreans met relatives from the other side for the first time in about 60 years.
The event appears to have led to a slight thaw in inter-Korean relations, sparking pledges of more talks.
But experts have pointed out that the small size of the event makes it impossible for all 72,000 applicants to meet their relatives even if they have another 20 years to live. That is why there are growing calls to make the reunions a regular fixture.
"At least 3,000 old people should be allowed to meet their relatives each year," Prof. Nam Sung-wook of Korea University said. "We need to consider the West German 'Freikauf' model of offering money to bring back separated family members from the North."
Freikauf means "buying freedom" in German.
It remains to be seen whether the improvement in inter-Korean relations will last. As an apparent first step, the two Koreas have started discussions on how to help the North contain the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease there.
Chung Sung-jang of the Sejong Institute speculated that the North will likely ask for concessions in return, such as resumption of lucrative package tours to Mt. Kumgang and lifting of sanctions.
The official Rodong Sinmun on Monday alluded to those issues.
Meanwhile, a North Korean patrol boat crossed the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border, in the West Sea on Monday night while the reunions were going on.
"A North Korean patrol boat crossed the NLL in waters 23.4 km west of Yeonpyeong Island three times from 10:56 p.m. last night," a Defense Ministry official said Tuesday. "The boat turned back and sailed north around 2:25 a.m. Tuesday morning after we sent a warning."
It was the first time that a North Korean patrol boat has crossed the border this year. The military speculated that the North was trying to gauge how the South Korean military would respond.
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