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Proposals for Korean family reunions ‘rejected’

Families have been separated since the 1950-53 Korean War.

A man looks at the North side through the barbed wire fence decorated with messages wishing for the reunification of the Koreas near the border village of Panmunjom.
A man looks at the North side through the barbed wire fence decorated with messages wishing for the reunification of the Koreas near the border village of Panmunjom.
Image: Lee Jin-man/AP/PA Images

NORTH KOREA’S Red Cross today rejected a proposal by its South Korean counterpart for talks aimed at restarting reunions for families separated since the Korean War, according to the North’s state media.

South Korea’s Red Cross had proposed the talks on Wednesday to discuss a resumption of temporary reunions for family members separated since the 1950-1953 war.

But the North rejected the offer, accusing its neighbour of blocking cross-border exchanges, and insisting the South should first reopen suspended tours to its Mount Kumgang resort on the border.

Family reunions have been held at the resort since it was opened in 1998 as a symbol of reconciliation between the two Koreas.

Seoul suspended cross-border tours by its citizens after a North Korean soldier shot dead a South Korean housewife in July 2008. The reunion programme has halted due to cross-border tensions.

Hundreds of thousands of family members were separated during the war. There are no civilian mail or phone connections across the border, and many do not even know whether their relatives are alive or dead.

Since 2000, sporadic events have briefly reunited more than 17,000 people face-to-face and an estimated 3,700 – usually those too frail to travel – via video link.

But 80,000 people in the South alone are on the waiting list for reunions and thousands die every year before getting their chance.

Tensions remain high after the North’s failed rocket launch in April. Pyongyang has also threatened attacks on Lee’s government and conservative media for perceived insults to its regime.

- (c) AFP, 2012

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