North, South Korea kick off reunion talks
North and South Korea have opened fresh talks to organize a reunion for the families separated by the Korean War in the early 1950s.
Red Cross officials from both sides kicked off discussions at the border truce village of Panmunjom on Monday.
The talks come on the heels of an agreement the two Koreas reached two weeks ago to end a dangerous military standoff and reduce cross-border tensions.
The Monday negotiations reportedly focused on confirming a date and venue for the planned reunion – the second such event in five years. While the two sides have come up with no definitive agreement, the reunion is expected to take place at the North’s Mount Kumgang resort sometime in early October.
Millions of people were separated during the 1950-53 conflict, which divided the two Koreas. Many people died without having a chance to see or hear from their families on the other side of the border.
About 71,000 South Koreans, more than half of them elderly people aged over 80, are on Soul’s waiting list for an eventual reunion.
The reunion program began in earnest after a historic North-South summit in 2000, and was initially an annual event. However, strained cross-border relations have allowed only one reunion in the past five years, with several being cancelled at the last moment by North Korea.
For the last reunion in February 2014, a computer was used to randomly select 500 candidates, after taking age and family backgrounds into account. That number was reduced to 200 after interviews and medical exams, and the two Koreas drew up a final list of 100 each after checking if relatives were still alive on the other side.
The Korean Peninsula has been locked in a cycle of escalating military rhetoric since the Korean War. The two neighbors share one of the world’s most heavily fortified borders.