South requests relatives reunions before Chuseok

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South requests relatives reunions before Chuseok

President Park Geun-hye has formally proposed to Pyongyang reunions of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War, following the breakthrough agreement to reopen the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex.

In a speech yesterday to mark Liberation Day, Park called for a resumption of the reunions ahead of the autumn Chuseok holidays as part of her so-called “trust-building process” with North Korea.

Reunions of separated families have not been held since November 2010 due to strained inter-Korean relations.

“Through the trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula, I hope that peace will take firm root and that the two Koreas will be able to realize common progress,” Park said. “I hope the North will be able to work together to make reunions of separated families possible around the time of the upcoming Chuseok holidays.”

Park also reiterated her proposal for the South and North to jointly create a “peace park” in the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone.

“I propose to the North the creation of an international peace park at the Demilitarized Zone, which is a legacy of division and confrontation between the two Koreas,” she said. “By turning the DMZ into a peace zone, I hope that our memories of war and threats of provocations that linger in our minds will be removed and that efforts to make the Korean Peninsula a land of trust, harmony and collaboration will be newly made.”

Park’s proposals came after the two Koreas successfully reached an agreement on Wednesday at a seventh round of talks to restart factories in the Kaesong Industrial Complex that have been shuttered since April due to military tensions and frosty relations.

On July 10, in the middle of the roller-coaster negotiations over Kaesong, North Korea abruptly proposed a package of deals to improve inter-Korean relations, including resuming the family reunions and the suspended tours by South Korean tourists to Mount Kumgang in the North.

At the time, Seoul accepted the idea of reunions only and put off talks on Mount Kumgang, saying the Kaesong issue should be resolved first. North Korea withdrew the whole package of proposals.

According to the Unification Ministry, more than 80 percent of the South Koreans who applied for reunions with families in the North are older than 70. A total of 128,824 South Koreans have requested reunions since 1988, but only 18,000 North and South Koreans met with each other so far. About 55,000 of the 128,824 South Koreans have died since putting in their requests.

“When it comes to the family reunions, we will immediately review specific measures and push forward with them,” a Unification Ministry official told reporters yesterday. “In terms of the DMZ peace park, it is still early to show our own plans for it, although we already have a scheme after discussions with experts.”

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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