중앙데일리

North decides to release four fishermen held

Separated family reunions set to take place from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1  PLAY AUDIO

Aug 29,2009
North Korea informed South Korea late yesterday that the four South Korean fishermen who had been detained since July 30 would be released today.

According to the Unification Ministry, North Korean authorities told their South Korean counterparts through the military communication line that the fishing boat Yeonan and its four crew members would be returned at 5 p.m. The handover was set to take place on the east coast, according to the ministry.

On July 30, the 29-ton Yeonan crossed the maritime border on the east coast after its satellite navigation system broke down. It was tugged away by a North Korean patrol boat.

Until yesterday, North Korean officials had refused to provide details of the fishermen’s detention. To South Korea’s repeated questions regarding the crew’s fate, the North had simply said the four fishermen were under investigation.

In another conciliatory overture by North Korea, families separated by the Korean War will meet their relatives from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1 at Mount Kumgang, Red Cross representatives from the two Koreas announced yesterday in their first meeting in nearly two years.

At the end of their three-day meeting on the reunion arrangements at Mount Kumgang north of the border, the Red Cross officials agreed that 100 South Koreans and another 100 North Koreans will be reunited with their divided families. In a joint statement released after the final round of talks, the representatives said the lists of the 100 people from each side will be exchanged on Sept. 17.

This will be the 17th reunion of separated families. Since 1985, more than 20,000 people have been briefly reunited.

At the beginning of the talks on Wednesday, South Korea, represented by its Red Cross Secretary General Kim Young-cheol, suggested that the selected South Koreans visit their families from Sept. 27 to 29 and that selected North Koreans meet their families from Oct. 6 to 8.

North Korea, led by its Red Cross Vice Chief Choe Song-ik, instead proposed Oct. 3 to 5 for South Koreans and Oct. 6 to 8 for North Koreans.

The two sides had earlier agreed in principle that the reunion would take place around Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving, which falls this year on the first weekend of October.

The group reunion will take place at the family visiting center at Mount Kumgang, while individuals may also meet their relatives at the Mount Kumgang hotel. Earlier this week, North Korea had balked at the family visiting center, which, despite its completion in July last year, has not yet opened for use.

The joint statement didn’t mention inter-Korean cooperation on South Korean prisoners of war and abductees, as South Korea had pushed for on Thursday. North Korea had countered that the meeting should only be about the Chuseok reunion. Kim Young-cheol, the chief delegate from Seoul, said it is “possible” that the issue could be discussed again in the near future.

In past reunions, war prisoners were granted opportunities to meet their relatives as special exemptions.

The two sides also didn’t set a date for future Red Cross meetings, or for future reunions. South Korea had asked for reunions in November and again in February during the Lunar New Year holidays, but North Korea wanted to focus on the Chuseok meeting.

Kim explained that further reunions depend on the future of inter-Korean relations. “It’s not easy to stage reunions as often as we’d like,” Kim said. “And obviously, it wasn’t something that Red Cross delegates alone could decide.” The last face-to-face reunion took place in October 2007, days after the second inter-Korean summit between Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il. In February 2008, just before Lee Myung-bak took office, families exchanged video letters.


By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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