South Korea pushes for family reunions with North Korea

2015-08-27 12:45

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Seoul - Seoul is to push to resume reunions of Korean family members separated by the division of the peninsula, in the next round of talks with North Korea, an official said on Thursday.

"For us, the family reunion issue tops the agenda," a presidential spokesperson said, after a meeting of senior officials on the topic.

Tensions between the rival neighbours flared recently, until a six-point agreement was reached early on Tuesday.

One of the points was the agreement to hold further, wide-ranging negotiations soon. Another was to work towards restarting the family reunions. The last round was held in February 2014 after a three-year gap.

"If the North wants to show us they are taking the agreement seriously, they can do so by solving this issue first," the spokesperson said. "Otherwise, we won't be able to move to other issues."

During the talks, Pyongyang was also keen to discuss the possible lifting of the South's sanctions, as well as the resumption of its aid programs, unnamed government insiders were quoted as saying by the South's Yonhap News Agency this week.

Provocative

Improving co-operation between the countries' non-governmental groups was also one of the points on the agreement.

There is a sense of urgency around the family reunions, as around half of the 129 698 South Koreans registered as separated from their immediate family in the 1950-53 conflict have already died.

They could be held held soon after the autumn holiday of Chuseok, which is celebrated in both Koreas on September 27, with mid-October the most likely date, Yonhap said.

But they would probably not go ahead in the case of any surprising or provocative move by the North.

Pyongyang is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the communist labour party on October 10, and may take the chance to fire some missiles or make some other show of military strength, Yonhap said.

Tensions escalated between the two countries after two South Korean soliders lost their legs in landmine explosion in the Demilitarised Zone on August 4.

Seoul blamed the incident on Pyongyang, and turned on propaganda loudspeakers at the border that had stood silent for 11 years, sparking an exchange of artillery shells.

The two sides later reached a deal to defuse tensions after three days of talks at the border village of Panmunjom.

Read more on:    south korea  |  north korea  |  security

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