Seoul sends Pyongyang its dates for reunions

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Seoul sends Pyongyang its dates for reunions

South Korea responded to North Korea’s offer Friday to hold reunions of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War, proposing they take place between Feb. 17 and Feb. 22.

The Ministry of Unification said yesterday that Seoul made the proposal via the telephone hotline at Panmunjom, or the Joint Security Area (JSA), on the inter-Korean border.

“We welcome the fact that North Korea has responded to the family reunions offer on Jan. 6 by South Korea in celebration of the Lunar New Year holiday,” read the proposal, according to ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do.

Seoul agreed that the reunions could take place at the Mount Kumgang resort in the North.

The ministry also asked North Korea to arrange a meeting of working-level officials from the Red Cross agencies of both Koreas on Jan. 29 at Tongilgak, the northern part of the JSA. The Red Cross is a humanitarian institution that has carried out reunions in the past.

North Korea did not send a response to the offer by 4 p.m. yesterday, the deadline for daily work at the liaison office in Panmunjom. If it accepts, the reunions will be held for the first time in three years and four months.

“We expect North Korea will respond to the offer by at least Jan. 28 because in the past it sent a reply at the last minute, right before the suggested meeting date,” a Unification Ministry official said.

Last Friday evening, Pyongyang sent an open letter to Seoul via its official Korean Central News Agency, as a follow-up to a similar proposal on Jan. 16, when it asked the South to create a mood for reconciliation by ending critical comments and canceling upcoming U.S.-South Korean military drills.

The North said the South could set the dates for reunions after the weather gets warmer following the Lunar New Year holiday, which spans from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye proposed the family reunions during a New Year press conference on Jan. 6. She asked her senior secretaries in a weekly meeting yesterday to “do your best to realize the reunions.”

She said: “We can’t wait for long because the families have this sorrow and regret after waiting for 60 years, and the majority of them are very old. We don’t have much time.”

It’s hard to predict whether North Korea will accept the dates since the annual Key Resolve military drills by South Korea and the United States are set to take place from late February for two weeks. Even though Seoul says the drills are for defense purposes, Pyongyang has denounced them as “war rehearsals.”

The two Koreas were scheduled to hold family reunions last September, but North Korea canceled them.


BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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