Red Cross officials from 2 Koreas meet in North to discuss reuniting divided Koreans

By Kwang-tae Kim, AP
Thursday, September 16, 2010

2 Koreas discuss reuniting families divided by war

SEOUL, South Korea — Red Cross officials crossed into North Korea on Friday to discuss Pyongyang’s proposal to resume the reunions of families separated by the Korean War in the latest sign of easing tensions on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea’s Red Cross wants to hold the reunions at its Diamond Mountain resort in late October, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said in Seoul.

The reunions would be the first in a year, and a promising sign that the two Koreas are working to repair relations in the wake of the March sinking of a South Korean warship. Seoul blames Pyongyang for the incident that killed 46 sailors; North Korea denies involvement.

North Korea also has proposed working-level military talks with South Korea — the first in nearly two years — to discuss their disputed western maritime border and anti-North Korean leafletting by activists.

Seoul said it was cautiously considering the proposal but still needs to see an apology for the sinking of the Cheonan warship.

North Korea’s neighbors are also engaged in diplomatic efforts to resume the stalled disarmament talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. Pyongyang quit the six-nation talks last year to protest international condemnation of a long-range rocket launch seen as a test of its missile technology.

Washington’s special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, was back in Seoul on Thursday after visiting Beijing and Tokyo as part of an Asian tour to discuss getting North Korea back to the negotiating table.

Senior U.S. officials told a Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the attack on the Cheonan was an “act of war” that may have been Pyongyang’s attempt to goad the U.S. into making concessions in future nuclear talks.

Tensions have been high since an international team of investigators concluded in May that a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan. Pyongyang threatened war if punished for an attack it said it did not carry out.

However, there have been a series of conciliatory gestures from both Koreas in recent weeks.

North Korea recently freed an imprisoned American to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s custody, and released a seven-man crew from a South Korean fishing boat seized a month ago in its waters.

On Thursday, South Korean civic groups sent 203 tons of rice to North Korea, in addition to the 530 tons of flour sent a day earlier, to help ease food shortages following devastating flooding and damage from a typhoon.

The South Korean Red Cross also announced plans to send 5,000 tons of rice, 10,000 tons of cement, medicine and other items to help the North recover from flooding in its northwest.

The family reunions, last held in late September and early October 2009, have been one consistent joint effort bringing Koreans from both sides together.

Millions of families were separated by the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945 and the Korean War, which ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the two countries technically at war. Ordinary citizens cannot send mail, make calls or send e-mails across the Korean border.

More than 20,800 family members have had brief reunions through face-to-face meetings or by video since a landmark inter-Korean summit in 2000.

North Korea’s Red Cross initially proposed holding the reunions as early as next week’s Thanksgiving holiday, a major holiday in both Koreas, but the suggested timeframe was pushed back to late October, the Unification Ministry spokesman said.

“We will propose the necessity of holding the North-South reunion on a regular basis, and try to persuade them,” South Korean chief delegate Kim Eyi-do told reporters Friday before heading to Kaesong, across the border in North Korea, for the talks.

The proposal comes as North Korea gears up to hold a Workers’ Party convention, its largest political meeting in 30 years. State media said the gathering would be held in early September, but there has been no announcement of an exact date.

Associated Press writer Seulki Kim in Dorasan Station at the border and Anne Flaherty in Washington contributed to this report.

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