North, South Korea to hold reunions for families long separated by war
North and South Korea agreed on Friday to allow families who were separated during the Korean War to meet in August — the first such reunions since 2015.
Each side will choose 100 people to meet at the scenic Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea from August 20 to 26, according to a statement released by the South Korean Unification Ministry.
Many families have been split across the border with little to no contact since the war ended with an armistice in 1953.
South Korean government figures from May showed 132,124 citizens had registered since 1988 to be included in a lottery for reunion visits. More than 75,000 have since died and 60 percent are aged 80 or older.
The reunion program was halted in 2015 amid growing tensions between the two sides as North Korea intensified its nuclear program with frequent missile launches and tests.
Friday’s meeting on reunification at Mount Kumgang between officials from North and South Korea and the Red Cross is a result of the Panmunjom Declaration signed in April by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The landmark agreement included a commitment to reunite families separated by the war.
Before the list of participants for the August reunions can be decided, the sides must exchange the names of separated families who hope to meet. Each side will then check if the people on it are still alive before drawing up a final list by August 4, the Unification Ministry statement said.
The chances of being chosen among the thousands of separated families are slim. Meetings are brief and emotional, as all parties know that it’s likely to be the last time they’ll meet.
North Korea has in the past used the reunions as a bargaining chip, regularly canceling events to express its displeasure with the South.
Both sides have agreed to repair the Mount Kumgang Reunion Center, with the South to send an inspection team to the site, near the border with the South, next week, the Unification Ministry said. An advance party will also travel from South Korea five days before the event to help with preparations.
“The South and North will hold further working-level talks and Red Cross talks at an agreed time, to discuss humanitarian issues including the reunion of separated families,” the statement concluded.
Diplomatic relations between the two Koreas have warmed rapidly since an initial rapprochement earlier this year when North Korea decided to send athletes to compete in the Winter Olympics in the South.
US President Donald Trump and Kim then made history at their June 12 summit in Singapore, becoming the first sitting leaders of their countries to meet face-to-face.
Trump praised Kim at a rally in Minnesota on Wednesday, telling his supporters that the North Korean would “turn that country into a great, successful country.”
He also said North Korea had sent back the remains of 200 US soldiers killed in the Korean War. It’s unclear if the remains have actually been returned or will be returned. CNN, citing four administration officials, reported Tuesday that the administration was expecting North Korea to return the remains in the coming days.
Trump has held up North Korea’s agreement to return the remains as one of the successes of the groundbreaking Singapore meeting. The US Defense Department estimates there are up to 5,300 sets of remains of US service members still somewhere in North Korea.
The Korean Peninsula was effectively split in two during the Korean War. The fighting ended with the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953, which created the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone. However, because no peace agreement was signed, technically the two sides are still at war.