North and South Korea on Friday agreed to hold temporary reunions of families divided by the 1950-1953 Korean War as they boost reconciliation efforts amid a diplomatic push to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.
The reunions are scheduled to take place at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort from Aug. 20 to 26, the South Korean Unification Ministry said after a nine-hour meeting between Red Cross officials from the two sides.
It said the countries would each send 100 participants to the reunions. People with mobility problems would be allowed to bring a relative to help them.
Such temporary reunions are highly emotional as most wishing to take part are elderly people who are eager to see their loved ones before they die. The families were driven apart during the turmoil of the war.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed during a summit in April to hold the family reunions on about Aug. 15, the anniversary of the Korean Peninsula’s independence from Japanese colonial rule at the end of World War II in 1945.
The talks between Red Cross officials at the Diamond Mountain resort were to arrange details of the reunions.
Kim and Moon met again in last month. Their two summits have opened various channels of peace talks between the countries. They agreed to restore cross-border military hotline communication channels and field joint teams in some events at the upcoming Asian Games in Indonesia.
“If we sternly separate ourselves from the unfortunate past and acquire a strong mind-set for the new times, humanitarian cooperation between the North and South will flourish,” North Korea delegate Pak Yong-il said at the start of the meeting.
South Korean Red Cross president Park Kyung-seo said he hopes for talks that could “resolve the grief of our nation.”
The Koreas last held family reunions in 2015 before relations worsened because of the North’s accelerated pursuit of nuclear long-range missiles and the hard-line response of Seoul’s then-conservative government.
Since the end of the Korean War, both Koreas have banned ordinary citizens from visiting relatives on the other side of the border or contacting them without permission. Nearly 20,000 Koreans have participated in 20 rounds of face-to-face temporary reunions held between the countries since 2000.
Aside from setting up a new round of reunions, South Korean officials also proposed a survey to confirm surviving members of war-separated families in North Korea and the possibility of hometown visits, but could not reach an agreement with North Korean officials, Park told reporters after the meeting.
The limited numbers of reunions are vastly insufficient to meet the demands of aging relatives, who are mostly in their 80s and 90s, South Korean officials have said.
More than 75,000 of the 132,000 South Koreans who have applied to attend a reunion have died and none of the past participants have had a second reunion, the Unification Ministry said.
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