Two Koreas Agree to Revive Family Reunions in Red Cross Talks

Red Cross officials from North and South Korea agreed to revive reunions of families separated by the Korean War in the latest sign of thawing ties between the two countries.

The negotiations at the border village of Panmunjom ended after 11 hours today with an agreement to hold the reunions from Sept. 25 to Sept. 30 at the North Korean mountain resort of Geumgang, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung Suk said in a briefing.

The two Koreas held their last round of family reunions in late 2010 at the eastern resort just north of the border. The deal today is another sign that relations have improved since the North threatened war against the South earlier this year.

“The two sides are cautious but willing to repair ties,” Cheong Seong Chang, a North Korea analyst at Sejong Institute, a researcher outside Seoul, said by phone. “The North understands it can’t rebuild its economy without help from the South.”

The two governments reached agreement on Aug. 14 on a plan to reopen their jointly run factory complex in the North Korean border town of Gaeseong. The site was shut in April and North Korea withdrew its 53,000 workers after the United Nations stepped up sanctions to contain the country’s nuclear program, and the U.S. and South Korea held annual military drills.

More than 300 South Koreans visited the Gaeseong Industrial Complex today as part of the agreement to work toward reopening the factory park, the ministry said.

Kim said 200 families will be reunited next month at Mt. Geumgang. The Red Cross negotiators also agreed on reuniting families in October via video and reached consensus on holding more face-to-face reunions in November, he said.

Tourism Talks

North Korea is trying to hold separate talks on resuming South Korean tours to Mt. Geumgang, a source of hard currency for the regime. The cross-border project stopped in 2008 when a North Korean guard shot and killed a South Korean tourist.

South Korea proposed earlier this month that the tourism talks be held on Sept. 25 at the mountain. The North wants the talks to be held later this month or early next month.

North Korea feels pressured by China to improve its relations with the outside world after it conducted its third nuclear test and threatened war against South Korea and the U.S. earlier this year, Cheong said.

“The mood of reconciliation between the Koreas will probably continue for some time,” Cheong said. “The North needs it to open talks with the United States.”

The Red Cross talks today coincided with a five-day hearing in Seoul by UN investigators trying to assess human rights conditions in North Korea through testimony by defectors. The hearing ends tomorrow.

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