South seeks talks with North over family reunions

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South seeks talks with North over family reunions

South Korea proposed holding working-level talks with the North next week to negotiate the establishment of regular reunions for families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Following official procedures, Seoul sent an offer for Red Cross talks for Wednesday via the inter-Korean liaison telephone channel in the border village of Panmunjom at 11:15 a.m., the Ministry of Unification said yesterday. “We plan to request today working-level contact with the North Korean Red Cross on [March] 12 at the Peace House in our region of Panmunjom,” spokeswoman Park Soo-jin said yesterday at a briefing.

This comes as President Park Geun-hye again ordered cabinet officials to enter into negotiations with North Korea to make reunions for families from both sides a regular event.

She has also sought to make possible a channel for war-torn families to check up on the well-being of their siblings, exchange letters and chat over video phone. In her March 1 address, the president also announced the launch of a unification preparation committee and proposed regular reunions for war-torn families.

The Unification Ministry determined that Red Cross talks, rather than official high-level government talks, were more appropriate for discussing family reunions considering it is a humanitarian issue.

Last month, the two sides held family reunions over six days at North Korea’s Mount Kumgang resort, the first such reunion in more than three years. As of yesterday, North Korea had not yet indicated if it will agree to Red Cross talks, though the two sides left future negotiations for regular family reunions open.

However, despite a number of conciliatory gestures - holding the first high-level government discussions in years and inter-Korean family reunions last month - Pyongyang on Tuesday tested its new multiple-rocket launcher, firing four missiles that potentially have a range long enough to reach Seoul into the East Sea.

These rocket launchers have a range of around 150 kilometers (93 miles) and the potential to strike South Korean and U.S. military bases in the metropolitan area. This totals six rounds fired from the new 300-millimeter (11.8-inch) multiple-rocket launcher, including four Tuesday afternoon and two on Feb. 21, amid inter-Korean family reunions.

A spokesman of North Korea’s People’s Army said yesterday that the missiles fired from the multiple-rocket launchers were “drills that are a part of regular plans and not a provocative act.” It also warned the United States to abandon its “evil practices.”

The reclusive state’s exercises created a potentially dangerous situation, however, as a Chinese passenger jet was flying nearby as the North fired off missiles on Tuesday.

The aircraft, with 226 passengers aboard, was flying just 80 kilometers from the path of the projectile as it was launched, according to military officials.

BY SARAH KIM, JEONG YONG-SOO [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]


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