Last-minute talks between Koreas raise family reunion hopes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 10:49pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 February, 2014, 4:46am


The two Koreas moved a step closer yesterday to resuming reunions for families separated by the Korean war, although final agreement could be derailed by a row over South Korean-US military exercises.

After weeks of back-and-forth, and a period of silence from Pyongyang, the two rivals settled on a date for preparatory talks to set up a reunion event at the North's Mount Kumgang resort.

Pyongyang yesterday offered talks tomorrow or Thursday. Seoul chose tomorrow and the North accepted the proposal.

The working-level meeting will be held at the border truce village of Panmunjom where the armistice ending the 1950-53 conflict was signed.

"We welcome that the North has finally come forward to discuss the reunion," said Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do. "Given the urgency of the matter, we will make preparations to hold the reunion as soon as possible."

The "urgency" refers to the fact that, 60 years after the war ended, many of those who suffered the division of their families have died. Most of those still living are in advanced old age.

North Korea offered last month to host a reunion and asked South Korea to pick the dates. Seoul quickly proposed February 17-21, but given the time that has since elapsed that schedule now looks optimistic.

If the Mount Kumgang gathering goes ahead, it would be the first reunion since 2010. A reunion had been planned last September but Pyongyang cancelled at the last minute, citing South Korean "hostility".

There are concerns it may do the same this time around, given Pyongyang's demands that the South cancel this month's annual military exercises with the US.