South Korea Presses North for More Reunions

South Korea is urging North Korea to allow reunions of families that have been separated for half a century to be held on a regular basis.

In talks Thursday between Red Cross delegations from North and South Korea, officials from the South urged North Korean representatives to not make family reunions a one-time event.

The two sides are meeting in the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea, and appear to be making progress toward a deal to at least arrange reunions later this year.

South Korean media have reported that the two sides have yet to agree on the dates when the South Koreans could meet with their family members in the North.  The last such reunions took place about two years ago, before relations between Seoul and Pyongyang soured.

Since 2000, the Korean Red Cross has conducted 16 face-to-face family reunions and several via video conference.  They estimate that 600,000 South Koreans have relatives in North Korea.  Most are elderly and these reunions may be the only chance for many to see long-lost relatives.

North Korea suspended the highly emotional reunions after President Lee Myung-bak took office about 18 months ago and ended unconditional aid shipments to the North.  Mr. Lee demanded that Pyongyang make progress on nuclear disarmament in return for aid.  Since then, Pyongyang has made a series of provocative actions against the South.  It also has conducted a nuclear test and launched several ballistic missiles, which led to tough new international sanctions against the regime.

But in recent weeks, Pyongyang has made conciliatory moves toward Seoul.  Last week, the North sent a delegation to the funeral of the former South Korean president and ended border restrictions against South Korean traffic.

On Tuesday, Pyongyang restored a direct telephone line with the South.  North Korea had cut the line and stopped the family reunions to protest what it called “hostile” South Korean policies.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.

Photo credit: South Korean President, Mr. Lee Myung-bak, at his opening address of the OECD ministerial meeting in Seoul “The Future of the Internet economy”.

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