North Korea and South Korea agree to hold family reunions in February
North Korea and South Korea have agreed to hold reunions for families separated after the Korean War in February, following calls from Pyongyang to improve ties.
If held, they would be the first reunions since 2010.
In September, North Korea cancelled a planned reunion, blaming “hostility” from South Korea.
The move comes ahead of annual US-South Korea military drills later this month, which are expected to anger North Korea.
Pyongyang has asked Seoul to cancel the annual drills – a request that has been refused.
North Korea has in the past cancelled or suspended reunion meetings in retaliation for South Korean actions it opposes. Critics have accused North Korea of using reunions as a bargaining chip.
Millions were separated from their families by the division of the Korean peninsula after the 1950-1953 war.
The reunion events are highly emotional occasions where North and South Koreans meet briefly in the North before heading home again.
The program was suspended after North Korea’s shelling of a South Korean border island in November 2010.
The reunions are scheduled to be held from February 20 to February 25, at the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea.
Before the meeting, Lee Duk-haeng, head of South Korea’s delegation, said: “We will make all-out efforts to come up with good results such as on a schedule for the family reunion so that we can deliver good news to separated families.
“We will do our best to start the new year off on the right foot for the South-North relationship.”
In September, Pyongyang cancelled the planned reunions of 100 families, blaming South Korea’s “confrontational attitude”.
It is estimated that there are about 72,000 South Koreans – nearly half of them aged over 80 – on the waiting list for a chance to join the family reunion events.
However, only a few hundred participants are selected each time. Most do not know whether their relatives are still alive, because the two countries prevent their citizens from exchanging mail, phone calls and emails.
Last month, North Korea began urging an end to slander and “hostile acts”, but many here remain skeptical that warmer ties are so easy to secure.
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