South Korea accepted the North’s offer to renew reunions of families separated by the Korean War, a move that may signal thawing tensions between the two nations.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it “welcomed” the offer made by North Korea yesterday and would soon propose dates for the restart of the reunions, according to an e-mailed statement, also yesterday. North Korea proposed the reunions be held in the mountain resort of Geumgang, once a popular tourist destination for South Koreans.
The two Koreas held their last round of family reunions in late 2010 at the resort just north of the border, where their two armies still face off more than 60 years after the the Korean War. With travel between the countries virtually barred and the Korean War generation dying off, the reunions remain an emotional issue and a link to a united Korea.
Some 129,035 South Koreans have reported having family members in the North since 1988, although more than 56,000 of those people are now dead, according to the Unification Ministry data.
The last attempt at reunions collapsed in September when the North canceled the meetings days before they were set to restart. Ninety-six South Koreans were due to meet family members from the North on Sept. 25-27, while 100 North Koreans were to meet their relatives on Sept. 28-30. The majority were aged 80 or older, including 28 people in their 90s.
Mt. Geumgang was once a booming tourist destination for South Korean and one of the few sources of hard currency for the North Korean regime. The cross-border project stopped in 2008 when a North Korean guard shot and killed a South Korean tourist at the site. North Korea has been pushing to open the site again.
The North Korean offer on the reunions came the same day as on “open letter” to the South calling for reconciliation and the cancellation of annual military drills between the South Korea and the U.S. due to start after the end of February. South Korea called the request to cancel the drills, which have fueled tensions in the past, irrational.
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