North and South Korea fail to agree on family reunions

South Korean Go Yong-kown, 91, talks with volunteers to fill out an application form to reunite with his family members who are living in North Korea, at the headquarters of the Korea Red Cross in Seoul on September 17, 2010. File photo: AP.  

The Red Cross associations of North and South Korea failed to agree on Friday on a venue to restart reunions of families who have lived separated for decades after the Korean War, officials said.

The latest talks in the North Korean border town of Kaeson stumbled on the same point as the previous meeting last week, the Unification Ministry in Seoul said. The last reunions of families split by the divided Korean peninsula were held a year ago, the Unification Ministry in Seoul said.

The two sides still agreed in principle that the reunions should resume, the ministry said, adding that another round of talks had been scheduled for next Friday to try to resolve the issue of where the reunions should take place.

The Red Cross talks marked a cooling of tensions between the two Koreas, which had spiked after the March sinking of a South Korean warship, which killed 46 sailors.

Seoul blames Pyongyang for the sinking, but North Korea has denied involvement, and at the end of May, it broke off ties with its neighbour.

North Korea proposed the Red Cross talks, followed by the South Korean Red Cross’ announcement that it would send rice and cement to the North to help it recover from flooding in August.

Tens of thousands of Koreans were separated by the 1950—53 Korean War and the subsequent division of the Korean Peninsula. From 2000 to 2007, about 16,000 of these people were reunited at more than a dozen family reunions held at Kumgang Mountain on North Korea’s east coast.

After a two—year break, one more reunion was held last year.

This month’s talks focused on whether the next reunions would continue to take place on the mountain. South Korean—owned facilities there have been seized or frozen by the Stalinist state because of a dispute over a South Korean ban on cross—border tours implemented by Seoul after a fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist by North Korean soldiers in 2008.

South Korea wanted the meetings held at the family—reunion centre there, but the North was reluctant, instead favouring a location “within the Kumgang zone,” South Korean officials said. Analysts said they suspected North Korea was trying to extract a concession from the South.

Pyongyang has been eager for South Korean tourists to return to North Korea because they provide much needed foreign currency injections into the impoverished state.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 7:04:11 PM |

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