North and South discuss frequent family reunions

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North and South discuss frequent family reunions

Reunions for families separated by the Korean War could be held several times a year - for the first time - if convoluted negotiations bear fruit.

That’s what North Korea offered yesterday at a meeting between the two sides’ Red Cross representatives in Kaesong. The sticking point: the North still wants Southern tour groups to return to the Mount Kumgang resort, from which it makes lots of money.

Choe Song-ik, head of the three-man North Korean Red Cross delegation, said yesterday, “Working-level talks on a government level should be held quickly in order to discuss the business of resuming the tourism business in Mount Kumgang,” and that concrete measures should be taken beforehand to restore tourism to the resort if frequent reunions are to be agreed to.

The North’s representatives said if progress were to be made on this issue, reunions could be held as many as three to four times a year.

Reunions for separated families were held during previous administrations, but at the most two times a year.

Previously, North Korea had demanded that Kumgang tours resume as a precondition for any family reunions. It took back its demand earlier this month after South Korean government officials refused in September.

Tours to North Korea came to a halt in 2008 when a South Korean tourist was shot and killed by a North Korean soldier in the mountain resort.

Seoul has demanded several conditions before tours can resume, including a thorough investigation into the shooting and a promise from Pyongyang that such incidents will not be repeated. North Korea froze South Korean assets at the resort last April.

Kim Yong-hyun, head of the South Korean delegation, yesterday asked for monthly reunions at the reunion center in Mount Kumgang starting next May and additional meetings for family members who have participated in previous reunions, in groups of 50 families.

In answer to South Korea’s requests, North Korean Red Cross officials said yesterday that three to four reunions could be held a year with 100 participants from each Korea, mostly during holiday periods. They also proposed video chat reunions.

North Korea also suggested the two Koreas work toward restoring the Red Cross communication channel in Panmunjom.

The two Koreas will hold another day of talks today, and the South Korean delegation will return today.

By Christine Kim []
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