North and South Korea agreed Tuesday to hold reunions next month of families separated by the Korean War in the early 1950s.
The agreement represents small but significant progress for rivals that just last month were threatening each other with war.
One hundred mostly elderly family members from each country will meet from Oct. 20 to 26 at the Mount Kumgang (Diamond Mountain) resort in North Korea, South Korean officials announced.
The decision came after talks among the Koreas’ Red Cross officials at the border village of Panmunjom. The two sides initially agreed to push for the reunions after striking a deal last month that eased a stand-off that had flared after a mine explosion blamed on Pyongyang maimed two South Korean soldiers.
The highly emotional reunions have not happened since early last year. But Tuesday’s announcement does not guarantee success. The rivals have a long history of failing to follow through on reconciliation efforts.
Planned reunions in 2013 were scrapped at the last minute because of North Korean anger, in part over its claims that the South was trying to overthrow Pyongyang’s government.
Most applicants are in their 70s or older and desperate to see their loved ones before they die. Many Koreans don’t even know whether relatives on the other side of the border are still alive, because their governments mostly ban the exchange of letters, phone calls or emails.
Some foreign analysts also remain skeptical about inter-Korean ties because of speculation that North Korea will fire what it calls a satellite to celebrate the 70th birthday on Oct. 10 of its ruling party. Similar past launches triggered an international standoff as South Korea and other neighboring countries called them disguised tests for long-range missiles. Such a launch would endanger the reunions.
About 22,500 Koreans had participated in brief reunions — 18,800 in person and the others by video — during a period of detente. None were given a second chance to meet their relatives, according to South Korea’s Red Cross.
South Korean officials have long called for holding reunions more regularly and expanding the number of people taking part. North Korea is seen as worrying that doing so could open the country to influence from more affluent South Korea and threaten the ruling party’s grip on power.
The two Koreas remain divided along the world’s most heavily fortified border since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
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