North and South Korea agreed on Tuesday to hold a reunion in October for families separated by the Korean War, following all-night talks between their respective Red Cross branches.
The reunion — only the second to be held in five years — will take place between October 20-26 in North Korea’s Mount Kumgang resort, the South’s Unification Ministry said.
Seoul was understood to have been pushing for a date before a major North Korean political anniversary on October 10, fearing Pyongyang might use the occasion to engage in a provocative act that could scupper the reunion altogether.
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According to the agreement reached by Red Cross officials in the border truce village of Panmunjom, 100 people will be selected by each side to take part in the week-long event.
The Red Cross talks began yesterday morning and, according to the South’s Unification Ministry, ran through the night with only occasional breaks.
The effort to organise a reunion was the product of an agreement the two Koreas reached two weeks ago to end a dangerous military standoff and reduce cross-border tensions.
Pyongyang has already accused Seoul of spinning the settlement as a North Korean climbdown, and warned that it would tear up the entire deal — including the family reunion — if the South continued making “wild remarks”.
North Korea is planning a massive military parade on October 10 to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party.
There has been speculation that it might also launch a long-range rocket — a move that would trigger fresh UN sanctions and raise tensions on the divided peninsula.
Millions of people were separated during the 1950-53 Korean War conflict that sealed the division between the two Koreas.
Most died without having a chance to see or hear from their families on the other side of the border, across which all civilian communication is banned.
About 66,000 South Koreans — many of them in their 80s or 90s — are on the waiting list for an eventual reunion, but only a very limited number can be chosen each time.
The reunion programme began in earnest after a historic North-South summit in 2000, and was initially an annual event.
But 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.