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Koreas: South Proposes Meeting with North on Family Reunions
By Staff, Agencies
South Korea proposed to hold talks with North Korea in an effort to resume the reunification of families separated since the Korean War, despite ongoing tensions on the Korean Peninsula over Pyongyang's nuclear program.
In a televised briefing on Thursday, South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Youngse said, "The South and the North should confront the painful parts of reality. We must solve the matter before the term 'separated families' disappears."
"We need to use all possible means immediately to come up with quick and fundamental measures," he added.
Kwon said time was running out for some 40,000 elderly family members in their 80s and 90s, with about 400 people passing away each month.
He expressed hope that responsible officials of the two Koreas would meet in person as soon as possible for a candid discussion, adding that the government was seeking to send an official message to North Korea on its offer for talks.
The two Koreas are still technically at war as the 1950-53 war between them ended in a truce and not a peace treaty. Millions of families were separated as a result of the war and many died without getting a chance to reunify with their families on the other side of the border, across which all civilian communication is banned.
The two sides, however, have occasionally agreed to hold temporary reunions of the families separated by the war over the past years. The first reunions took place in 1985 and the last one was in 2018.
Family reunions are a highly emotional, humanitarian issue because they involve those in their 80s and older who are desperate to reunite with their long-lost relatives before they die.
According to the South Korean Unification Ministry, about 133,650 people in South Korea have applied for reunions but nearly 70% of them have died.
The latest proposal comes at a time of heightened tensions between the two Koreas, fueled by South Korea's growing alliance with the US and Washington's sanctions against Pyongyang.
In late August, the United States and South Korea began their biggest joint war games in years as part of what they claimed were countermeasures against threats from North Korea, which in turn calls those drills rehearsals for invasion.
North Korea has test-fired a record number of missiles this year amid claims by officials in Seoul and Washington that Pyongyang appears to be preparing to test a nuclear weapon for the first time in five years.
North Korea conducted its sixth and last nuclear test in September 2017. Following inconclusive negotiations with the US, it dismantled a nuclear facility and has not conducted any other nuclear tests since.
The US has warned it would push for additional sanctions if Pyongyang conducted a seventh nuclear test.
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