North and South Korea agreed yesterday to allow reunions next month of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, the first such meetings in three years and the latest conciliatory gesture from the North after a spring that saw it threaten Seoul with missile strikes and nuclear war.
One hundred people from each country will be allowed to meet family members between 15 and 30 September at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort. South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which is responsible for relations with the North, said 40 people from each side would also be allowed to hold talks by video conference on 22 and 23 October, and the countries agreed to meet later to discuss possible November reunions. There is relief in Seoul that people who have languished for decades with little or no word about loved ones in North Korea will at last meet and that Pyongyang’s threats have died down – but there is also wariness. Analysts say North Korea often follows provocations with charm offensives meant to win much-needed aid.
Millions of families have been separated since the Korean War. Most do not even know whether their relatives are still alive because the two countries bar citizens from exchanging mail and phone calls. South Koreans who want to meet relatives must apply for a permit, and applicants are then chosen by lottery. Most of the people applying for permits are over 70, and already nearly 56,000 of the roughly 129,000 applicants have died.