The respective leadership of both North and South Korea have finally agreed to another round of family reunions, the BBC reports. After millions of families were divided by the Korean War conflict that spanned the years 1950 to 1953, several bouts of small reunion events have taken place.
Negotiations took place between South Korean delegation leader Park Kyung-seo of the Korean Red Cross, and North Korean delegation leader Pak Yong-il, vice chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country. The discussions were held at a hotel in North Korean tourist destination Mount Kumgang. Both men emerged from their meeting with a joint statement declaring that the reunion event would go forward, hoping to break new ground between the two countries.
“We should also part with the past and go down the road our leaders have forged for us,” Pak Yong-il said.
A contentious note between the two countries and their diplomatic attaches remains at issue; a group of 12 North Korean women, who defected to South Korea via their employment in China, is central to the dispute. North Korea wants the women returned and South Korea is investigating claims that some of the women were pressured into their defection expressly against their will.
This particular matter remains as yet unresolved and may or may not play a role in the negotiations surrounding the upcoming reunion event.
This reunion event is slated to occur in August, about three years since the last opportunity arose in 2015. Since then, relations had become frosty and were finally warmed over the past few months, most recently with the Singapore peace summit hosted between representatives of North Korea, South Korea, and the United States. While South Korean President Moon Jae-in was not able to attend personally – sending a proxy in his place – United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were present.
The Red Cross organizations for both nations will be charged with coordinating the event according to Reuters. One hundred North Koreans and 100 South Koreans will be chosen from a long list of potential candidates that will have applied to be amongst the lucky few who get to participate. On the South Korean side of the border, nearly 57,000 citizens are registered with the Red Cross as having been separated from their family members by the conflict.
The previous reunion in 2015 was a bit more expansive, allowing for 650 South Koreans to visit their relatives in North Korea.
Unfortunately, many if not most of the survivors of the terrible struggle were never able to see their loved ones on the other side of the border, having expired before diplomacy had improved enough to make such a trek possible. As of March this year, over half of the South Koreans that had signed up to take part in reunions between the two nations had passed away.
The current reunion program began in the year 2000 – replacing a less significant program begun in the mid 1980s – and follows another keystone peace summit between the two Koreas. Reunions under the current program were initially held each and every year until increasing tensions between the administrations of both nations grew strained.