North, South Korea agree to family reunions

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SEOUL: North and South Korea agreed on Wednesday to hold a reunion later this month for families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War—the first such event for more than three years.

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The agreement marked a rare moment of cooperation between the two rivals, especially coming just weeks before the South kicks off joint military exercises with the United States that have been vehemently denounced by Pyongyang.

Officials from both sides meeting in the border truce village of Panmunjom, decided the reunion would be held on February 20 to 25 at the North’s Mount Kumgang resort, the South’s Unification Ministry said.

“We hope that the latest agreement will be smoothly carried out to ease the suffering and pain of separated families,” the ministry said in a statement.

Any sign of accord between North and South Korea tends to be greeted with optimism, given their perennial inability to cooperate on even the most basic trust-building measures.

However, both sides have been here before, and observers warn that setting dates does not necessarily mean the event will take place.

The two Koreas had agreed to hold a reunion last September but, even as the chosen relatives prepared to make their way to Mount Kumgang, Pyongyang cancelled at the last minute, citing “hostility” from the South.

And there are widespread concerns that the families could end up being disappointed again, given the unresolved tensions surrounding the South-US military drills that are scheduled to begin late February.

North Korea has warned of dire consequences if the exercises go ahead, while Seoul and Washington have dismissed any possibility of their cancellation.

The annual drills are always a diplomatic flashpoint on the Korean peninsula, and resulted last year in an unusually sharp and extended surge in military tensions.

AFP

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