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Chuseok family reunions
Publication Date : 19-08-2013
Many South Koreans who have family members residing in North Korea desire to meet them as the Chuseok holiday approaches.
On their behalf, the South Korean Red Cross is set to hold talks with its counterpart on Friday. It is a follow-up to President Park Geun-hye’s earlier proposal for family reunions next month.
Arranging reunions with long lost family members, their number restricted to some hundreds each time, is an urgent humanitarian issue for the South Korean government. For North Korea, however, it is nothing but useful leverage with which to take concessions from the South.
A case in point was a recent proposal North Korea made on July 10. It offered to hold talks on family reunions as a sweetener for South Korean companies resuming operations in the industrial complex in the North Korean border town of Gaeseong. It withdrew the offer as soon as South Korea offered no concessions.
Since 1988, about 129,000 South Koreans, most of them in their 70s or older, have applied for brief reunions with their spouses and children in the North, whom they have not seen since the end of the Korean War in 1953. About 2,000 of them have since died each year.
The chances are high that North Korea will accept South Korea’s proposal for family reunions this time, given Seoul and Pyongyang recently agreed to restart operations in the industrial complex. This is not to say the North is likely to accept the offer with no strings attached.
On the contrary, the cash-strapped North may still demand as a precondition Seoul’s promise to resume a programme of sending tourists to the Mount Geumgang resort on its east coast. When it offered talks on family reunions last time, North Korea wanted to discuss the issue of restarting the tour programme as well as that of resuming operations in the industrial complex.
South Korea demands North Korean assurances of tourist safety before restarting the tour programme. It is a legitimate demand, given that the programme has been suspended since a South Korean tourist was shot to death when she strayed into an off-limits area in 2008.
A sensible North Korea, however, would not demand anything in return for family reunions this time. The North, by omission, would have more to gain eventually. The Park administration plans to provide massive aid for the North when mutual trust is established.
Of course, permission to a few hundred South Koreans to meet their family members in the North is nothing but a stopgap measure. A better solution would be to allow all split family members to cross the border to meet each other. Not much time is left to heal their sufferings from the fratricidal war.