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Koreas agree to reunions of war-separated families

KPPA/POOL/AFP | South Korean Lee Jeong-Suk (L), 68, wipes the tears of her North Korean father Ri Heung-Jong (R), 88, as they bid farewell following their three-day separated family reunion meeting on October 22, 2015.

North and South Korea agreed Friday to resume reunions in August for families separated by the Korean War -- the first such meetings since 2015 and the latest step in a remarkable diplomatic thaw on the peninsula.


The reunions will be held from August 20 to 26 in the North's scenic Mount Kumgang resort, a joint statement released after an inter-Korean Red Cross meeting said.

The countries will each send 100 participants to the reunions. People with mobility problems will be allowed to bring a relative to help them.

Millions of people were separated during the 1950-53 conflict that sealed the division of the peninsula and the resumption of the family reunions was one of the agreements reached between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the South's president Moon Jae-in at their landmark summit in April.

Kim and Moon met again in May, and their two summits have opened various channels of peace talks between the Koreas. The rivals recently agreed to restore cross-border military hotline communication channels and field joint teams in some events at the upcoming Asian Games in Indonesia.

"If we sternly separate ourselves from the unfortunate past and acquire a strong mindset for the new times, humanitarian cooperation between the North and South will flourish," North Korea delegate Pak Yong Il said at the start of the meeting at North Korea's Diamond Mountain resort. Park Kyung-seo, South Korea's Red Cross chief, expressed hope for productive talks that could "resolve the grief of our nation."

Reunion programs are highly emotional as most wishing to take part are elderly people who are eager to reunite with their loved ones before they die. They were driven apart during the turmoil of the Korean War.

'Like winning the lottery, but just to see your family'

The Koreas last held family reunions in 2015 before relations worsened because of North Korea's accelerated pursuit of nuclear long-range missiles and the countering hard-line policies of Seoul's conservative then-government.

Since the end of the Korean War, both Koreas have banned ordinary citizens from visiting relatives on the other side of the border or contacting them without permission. Nearly 20,000 Koreans had participated in 20 rounds of face-to-face reunions held between the countries since 2000.

The limited rounds of reunions are vastly insufficient to meet the demands of aging relatives, who are mostly in their 80s and 90s, South Korean officials say. According to Seoul's Unification Ministry, more than 75,000 of the 132,000 South Koreans who have applied to attend a reunion have died. None of the past participants has had a second reunion.

South Korea uses a computerized lottery to pick participants for the reunions, while North Korea is believed to choose based on loyalty to its authoritarian leadership. South Korean analysts say North Korea allows only infrequent reunions for the fear of wasting what it sees as an important diplomatic bargaining chip. Pyongyang may also worry that its citizens will become influenced by the much more affluent South, which could loosen the government's grip on power.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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