South and North Korea held working-level talks Monday to arrange the reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War following their recent landmark deal on easing military tension, government officials said.
Three South Korean officials kicked off a meeting with their North Korean counterparts earlier in the day at the truce village of Panmunjom to discuss details, such as the timing and the venue of the upcoming event, they said.
“We will do our best to meet the expectations and aspirations by everyone,” Lee Duck-hang, Seoul’s chief delegate, said in Seoul before departing to the truce village.
The two Koreas reached a historic agreement in late August to make efforts to mend ties and resume the reunions on the occasion of Korea’s fall harvest Chuseok holiday slated for late this month.
The agenda for the talks will mainly focus on the upcoming event, but the South hopes to discuss other issues, such as holding the family reunions on a regular basis and allowing separated families to exchange letters.
There is growing speculation that the reunions are likely to be held at Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort on the North’s east coast, in October, given the time needed for preparation.
There are more than 66,000 South Korean family members separated by the Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving South and North Korea technically at war.
The issue of the separated families is one of the most pressing humanitarian matters as most surviving family members are in their 70s and 80s. About half of the around 129,700 applicants for the family reunions have passed away.
Long-strained inter-Korean ties have taken a dramatic twist in recent weeks as South and North Korea reached the deal after being on the verge of a military clash.
If held, the family reunions will be the first since February 2014, when they took place at Mount Kumgang.
Since the first historic inter-Korean summit in 2000, the two Koreas have held 19 rounds of face-to-face family reunion events. Seven rounds of video-based reunions also have been held.
Experts say inter-Korean ties are likely improving, but there are still dampeners, such as the possibility of a long-range missile launch by North Korea next month.
Despite the easing military tension on the Korean Peninsula, there is still a chance that North Korea could make an additional provocation ahead of Oct. 10, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party.
Sports ties sought
South Korea’s football chief Chung Mong-gyu will discuss reviving cross-border internationals with his North Korea counterparts on a visit to Pyongyang later this month, the Korea Football Association (KFA) said.
While teams of both genders have met when drawn against each other at various tournaments and in qualifying campaigns, the last friendly internationals took place in 2005 to commemorate the anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan.
KFA President Chung will visit the North Korean capital from September 18 for a meeting of the executive committee of the East Asian Football Federation and will take the opportunity to press for more meetings between the neighbors.
“We expect this trip will go a long way toward revitalizing inter-Korean football exchanges,” a KFA official told the Yonhap News Agency.
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