The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross is visiting North and South Korea to discuss proposed reunions of families separated by the Korean War and other humanitarian issues
Peter Maurer arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday and plans to visit South Korea to speak to officials there on Friday, the same day that has been proposed for both Koreas to meet for working-level talks on the reunions proposal.
North Korea agreed to the reunion talks but has also proposed talks on resuming tours to a North Korean resort. South Korea said the issues should be handled separately, and the North hasn’t responded to South Korea’s proposed delay on discussing the tourism project.
Along with discussing the reunions, Maurer was expected to talk about ongoing projects the Red Cross supports in North Korea, including a physical rehabilitation centre in Pyongyang and four provincial hospitals.
The ICRC has had a permanent presence in North Korea for about 10 years. Maurer is the group’s first president to make a combined visit to both countries on the Korean peninsula in 21 years, it said in a statement.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s proposal for a reunion next month of families still separated 60 years after the 1950-53 war was widely seen as an attempt to further ease tensions that escalated earlier this year.
Family reunions were a key inter-Korean cooperation project during a period of thawed relations between 2000 and 2010, but they have not been held for three years. About 22,000 Koreans were able to meet in that time. The families were separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, when there were huge movements of refugees between North and South Korea.
North Korea appears to be increasingly open to reducing the tensions marked by a North Korean nuclear test, war threats and annual military drills by Seoul and Washington. The Koreas have agreed to move toward reopening a jointly run factory park closed since April, and North Korea’s criticism of US-South Korean training exercises this week was milder in tone than its statements on past drills.
But analysts say the North often follows provocations and threats with a charm offensive meant to win aid. A similar proposal on the reunions in July fizzled.