South proposes February date for family reunions with North

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 11:46am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 11:21pm

South Korea has suggested holding family reunions for those separated by the Korean war in mid-February, ahead of joint military drills with the US that North Korea wants cancelled.

Seoul came up with the dates after the North unexpectedly announced on Friday it was willing to hold the event, the latest in a series of conciliatory gestures from Pyongyang that the South has treated with scepticism.

The South suggested the reunions take place at the North's Mount Kumgang resort from February 17 to 21.

That would sandwich the gathering between the February 16 birthday of North Korea's late leader Kim Jong-il - an important national holiday - and the joint exercises scheduled to begin at the end of the month.

"We hope that the North will show positive reactions to our proposal and that the family reunions will be held smoothly to open new opportunities in inter-Korea ties," the South's Unification Ministry said.

The ministry said it had proposed a meeting at the border truce village of Panmunjom tomorrow to hammer out details.

The reunion programme has been suspended since the North's shelling of a South Korean border island in November 2010. A reunion had been scheduled for September last year, but North Korea cancelled at the last minute, citing "hostility" from the South.

"It was a terrible disappointment," said 80-year-old Cheung Hi-kyung, who had been due to meet his 65-year-old nephew.

"I hope North Korea will not change its mind this time," Cheung said. "My hopes are high but I'm trying to keep them in check because North Korea is always unpredictable."

About 71,000 people - most over 80 - are on the South's waiting list to participate in a reunion. Only about 100 people on each side are selected for each event.