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North, South Korea to hold family reunion next month

North, South Korea to hold family reunion next month

SEOUL: North and South Korea agreed on Tuesday to hold a reunion in October for families separated by the Korean War, following all-night talks between their respective Red Cross branches.

The reunion — only the second to be held in five years — will take place between October 20-26 in North Korea’s Mount Kumgang resort, the South’s Unification Ministry said.

Seoul was understood to have been pushing for an earlier date — before North Korea celebrates the 70th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Worker’s Party on October 10.

There are concerns Pyongyang might use the occasion to engage in a provocative act that could scupper the reunion altogether.

The Red Cross talks began on Monday morning in the border truce village of Panmunjom and, according to the South’s Unification Ministry, ran through the night with only occasional breaks.

The chief South Korean delegate, Lee Duk-Haeng, confirmed that his side had requested a reunion at the “earliest possible date”, but the North side demurred, citing the lengthy Chuseok holiday in late September and preparations for the ruling party anniversary.

According to the agreement, 100 people will be selected by each side to take part in the week-long event.

The effort to organise a reunion was the product of an accord the two Koreas reached two weeks ago to end a dangerous military standoff and reduce cross-border tensions.

Pyongyang has already accused Seoul of spinning the settlement as a North Korean climbdown, and warned that it would tear up the entire deal — including the family reunion — if the South continued making “wild remarks”.

For those on the waiting list, the reunion selection process is an emotional roller-coaster — raising hopes of a meeting they have longed for but which, statistically, they are very unlikely to experience.

North Korea is planning a massive military parade on October 10 to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party.

There has been speculation that it might also launch a long-range rocket — a move that would trigger fresh UN sanctions and raise tensions on the divided peninsula.

Millions of people were separated during the 1950-53 Korean War conflict that sealed the division between the two Koreas.

Most died without having a chance to see or hear from their families on the other side of the border, across which all civilian communication is banned.

About 66,000 South Koreans — many of them in their 80s or 90s — are on the waiting list for an eventual reunion, but only a very limited number can be chosen each time.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2015

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