Government plans to ask Pyongyang for reunions

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Government plans to ask Pyongyang for reunions

The South Korean government is planning to propose to North Korea reunions for war-separated families ahead of the Chuseok holidays in September, which would follow the first round of reunions under the Park Geun-hye administration that were conducted in February.

“In an aim to console the grief felt by families torn apart by war and resolve strained inter-Korean relations, we are planning to negotiate with North Korea to hold reunions ahead of the Chuseok holidays,” a South Korean government official told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.

In February, ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays, 100 candidates from each side separated during the 1950-53 Korean War met with their counterparts over six days at North Korea’s Mount Kumgang resort.

“Although we have about a month until the Chuseok holiday, we think we could flexibly set the schedule for the reunions considering preparations for them,” the Seoul official said, implying the reunions could be held after the holiday.

In order to persuade North Korea to agree to hold the reunions, South Korea will also propose more broadly boosting inter-Korean cooperation, including financing the stay of North Korea’s cheerleading squad during the 17th Asian Games in Incheon.

North Korea has proposed sending its national team players and a cheerleading squad, composed of 350 members each, for the Games, scheduled to start on Sept 19.

Negotiators from the two Koreas failed to reach an agreement during talks on July 17 at the border village of Panmunjom over the details of their stay in the South.

According to Seoul officials, North Korea indirectly demanded the South fund their athletes and cheerleaders, providing accommodation, transportation and other services while they are in the country.

Supporting North Korea’s athletic delegation is expected to cost a significant portion of the South’s state budget.

According to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, the government spent 1.3 billion won ($1.2 million) in September 2002 on their stay for the Asian Games in Busan. And in August 2003, it also cost approximately 899 million won for the North Korean players and cheerleaders’ to participate in the Summer Universiade in Daegu.

The South said in the July meeting that it would “follow international standards” in supporting the North Korean delegation.

However, one Seoul official said yesterday that the government was actually considering funding for the North. “Although we should consider North Korea’s attitude and public opinion [in the South], we judge we could provide billions of won in support if necessary,” the official said.

Today, President Park Geun-hye will hold and preside over her first meeting of the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation.

According to the Blue House, the meeting is convened to further discuss inter-Korean relations and realize Park’s “Dresden Declaration,” in which she will outline her vision of a peaceful Korean unification in an address during a state visit to Germany in March.

BY LEE YOUNG-JONG [heejin@joongang.co.kr]





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