Good news on reunionsReunions of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War will likely be resumed after more than three years. North Korea last Friday accepted South Korea’s proposal for the reunions and our government notified the North yesterday that it welcomed Pyongyang’s decision. South Korea yesterday delivered a telephone communique to the North, which included our positions on the North’s acceptance and concrete details on when to hold the reunions. We hope a successful discussion on the issue leads to the meetings as soon as possible.
In a New Year’s speech, President Park Geun-hye proposed to the North to have reunions on the occasion of the Lunar New Year holidays, which fall from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1. Pyongyang rejected Park’s offer by denouncing two sets of annual Korea-U.S. military exercises scheduled for February through March. In an encouraging step, though, Pyongyang then demonstrated a forward-looking attitude by agreeing to the reunions and leaving the timing to South Korea. Although North Korea probably made the conciliatory gestures as part of its latest peace offensive, we nevertheless welcome it. The North’s move translates into Pyongyang’s first official response to President Park’s persistent demand that North Korea prove its sincerity through actions, not words.
The two Koreas agreed to hold reunions of separated families around the Chuseok holidays last year and exchanged a detailed list of names of the people chosen for the meetings. But Pyongyang abruptly and unilaterally canceled the long-awaited reunions just four days before the meetings were to be held, citing incomprehensible political reasons.
North Korea should not splash cold water on the families’ desperate yearnings for reunions by finding fault with joint Korea-U.S. military drills, an issue that is totally separate from humanitarian meetings like reunions. The reunions of separated families carry great significance as they could serve as a first step in easing the current inter-Korean deadlock.
A total of 129,264 South Koreans in their later years applied for reunions from 1988, the first year they were held, until last year. Among them, 57,784 - or 44.7 percent - have passed away, including 3,841 who died last year. There are only 71,480 survivors and they are mostly in their 80s or older. Their last wish is to meet the families they left behind before they die. South and North Korea’s governments must find effective ways to allow them to meet each other on a constant basis, at the Mount Kumgang resort or through video reunions. If North and South Korea provide the precious opportunity to only 100 people on each side, they will do little to ease their decades-old agony of separation.