Koreas agree to hold reunions for war-separated families in August

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jun 22 2018 07:53 PM

South Korea's delegation leader Park Kyung-seo, head of the Korean Red Cross, and North Korea's delegation leader Pak Yong-il, vice chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, shake hands during their meeting at a hotel on Mount Kumgang, North Korea, June 22, 2018. Yonhap via Reuters


SEOUL- North and South Korea agreed Friday to resume reunions for families separated by the Korean War in August -- the first such meetings since 2015 and the latest step in a remarkable diplomatic thaw on the peninsula.

Millions of people were separated during the 1950-53 conflict that sealed the division of the two Koreas.

Most died without the chance to see or hear from their relatives on the other side of the border, across which all civilian communication is banned.

The resumption of the family reunions was among the agreements reached between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the South's president Moon Jae-in at their landmark summit in April.

Officials from both sides met at the North's scenic Mount Kumgang resort on Friday and set a date for late August.

"The reunion will be held from August 20 to 26 and 100 participants will be selected from each side," said a joint Seoul-Pyongyang statement released by the South's unification ministry.

South Korean officials will begin inspections of the Mount Kumgang resort -- the venue of the reunions -- from next week, it added.

Only about 57,000 people registered with the South Korean Red Cross to meet their separated relatives remain alive, most of them aged over 70.

For the lucky few chosen to take part, the experience is often hugely emotional, as they are given only three days to make up for decades of time apart, followed by another separation at the end -- in all likelihood permanent.

The reunion program began in earnest after a historic inter-Korean summit in 2000 and they were initially held annually, but strained cross-border relations have made them rare.

Pyongyang has a lengthy track record of manipulating the issue of divided families for political purposes, refusing proposals for regular reunions and canceling scheduled events at the last minute.

North Korea has previously demanded it will not agree to family reunions unless Seoul returns several of its citizens, including a group of waitresses who defected from a restaurant in China.