South Korea offers new talks with North on family reunions | Political news

Millions of people were separated across the border when the fighting in the Korean War suddenly ended in 1953.

South Korea has offered talks with North Korea to discuss how to help the thousands of families who were separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War, in its last direct overture to Pyongyang since joining in office of President Yoon Suk-yeol in May.

Unification Minister Kwon Young-se issued the invitation for dialogue on the eve of Chuseok, one of the biggest holidays for Koreans on both sides of the border, describing the separation of families as part of of a “painful reality”.

Seoul is ready to take Pyongyang’s preferences into account when deciding the date, venue, agenda and format of the talks, he said.

“We hope responsible officials from both sides will meet in person as soon as possible for a frank discussion on humanitarian issues, including the issue of separated families,” Kwon said.

Families were torn apart in 1953, when an armistice ended Korean War fighting but left the North and South still technically at war and the peninsula divided by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and a heavily bordered fortified.

All direct civil exchanges, even a simple visit to a mother, brother, father or sister, were prohibited.

Decades later, most don’t know if their loved ones are still alive.

The reunion became increasingly emotional as the family members got older. Many are now 80 or older [File: Lee Su-kil/Korea Pool Photo via AP Photo]

The governments of the two Koreas have occasionally allowed brief reunions — the last one was in North Korea in 2018 — but most separated families don’t know if their loved ones are still alive.

It is unclear whether North Korea, which has already rejected Yoon’s offer of aid in exchange for denuclearization, will accept the latest offer.

Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies, said the odds were extremely low.

“Family reunions are a fundamental humanitarian issue, but in reality they require a substantial level of trust between the two parties,” he told Reuters news agency.

The latest proposal comes at a time of heightened tension between North and South, with Pyongyang carrying out an unprecedented number of missile tests this year, and also blaming Seoul for the COVID-19 outbreak in its territory. .

The question of family reunifications has arisen more and more over the decades.

Many of those who were separated are now in their 80s and eager to reunite with loved ones long gone before they died. About 400 people died each month, Kwon said.

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