Reconciliation Starts with Reunion

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Reconciliation Starts with Reunion

An Air Koryo aircraft, which leaves Pyongyang this Tuesday morning, will land in Kimpo Airport with 100 North Korean separated family members. It will then leave for the North carrying 100 South Koreans.

The separated families will be unable to control their beating hearts and will wonder whether they will be able to recognize the long unseen faces. Finally they have a chance to reconfirm their family ties as they talk about the agony and hardships of separation from their parents, spouses, children and siblings. The reunion of the families separated by war is a gesture of reconciliation, and an act of using our own hands to heal the wounds of national division in which armed conflict and foreign forces have played large roles. It also signals the first step in the long march toward national unity, transcending the chasm of ideology.

We have always argued that meetings of separated families must expand and that the locations of reunions should not be limited only to Seoul and Pyongyang.

It was reported yesterday that North Korea's National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il, addressing a visiting delegation of South Korean media chiefs, said that he would allow further reunions of displaced families to take place in September and October. He also reportedly stated that he would review the possibility of allowing hometown visits starting next year.

The separated families in the two Koreas are meeting for the first time in several decades. Arranging for them to meet in a huge gymnasium, as if staging a sporting event, is a thoughtless measure that fails to take into account their uniquely tragic circumstances and emotions. For the separated families, a genuine reunion would only be possible if they were allowed to visit their hometowns, to meet not only family members but other relatives, friends and village neighbors. The two Koreas have held several discussions on allowing separated families to make hometown visits in the past, but the visits failed to take place every time due to objections from the North. Chairman Kim reportedly stated, however, that there should be no need to prevent hometown visits now that the two Koreas are cultivating a true understanding. We consider this new perception to be a great change, one that offers the key answer to resolving the separated family issue.

Through several exchanges, we have confirmed that the people living in the North are not monsters, but people just like ourselves. The South has also clearly stated its intention not to attempt reunification by absorbing the North. The most important foundation for reunification is not tedious debates on the reunification formula, such as whether to adoprt a confederation or a federal system, but the building of trust and mutual understanding through cooperation and exchanges. Accordingly, if the meetings between separated families progress into allowing visits to hometowns, and then to free visits between the two Koreas, the developments would constitute a small reunification in themselves.

We firmly believe that Chairman Kim's statement demonstrated a true resolve to expand inter-Korean exchanges. From the conversation Chairman Kim shared with the delegation of South Korean media heads, we understand that it is difficult for the North to revise the combative party platform of the Worker's Party of Korea, and also that the North intends to continue with missile development, albeit for economic reasons. We believe that in order for the mood of detente currently being manifested in the form of the reunion of separated families to end as a genuine reconciliation between the two Koreas, politics must be excluded from the meetings between separated family members. Moreover, we also believe that the meetings should ultimately lead to the establishment of a systematic structure of peace between the two Koreas. The government authorities of the two Koreas should begin consultations on the peace system in the near future through high-level talks to ensure a peaceful coexistence.

by Noh Jae-Hyun

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