North and South Koreas agree to rare family reunions

Image source, AFP
Image caption, The family reunions will take place at the same resort area at Mount Kumgang in North Korea as the previous round of meetings in February 2014

North and South Korea have agreed to hold rare reunions for families separated by the Korean War, according to Seoul.

The meetings will take place in October at a mountain resort in North Korea.

The decision follows an agreement last month that de-escalated tensions sparked by a border mine explosion that injured two South Korean soldiers.

Thousands of Korean families have been separated with little or no contact since the war ended in 1953.

The highly emotional reunions of family member who have not seen one another in decades have been infrequent, and depend hugely on the state of relations on the peninsula.

The BBC's Stephen Evans in Seoul says the reunions, which started in 1988, used to be annual but have often been cancelled in recent years as relations frayed. The last round was held in February 2014.

Image source, AFP
Image caption, Most of those who take part in the reunions have not seen their relatives in decades

About 66,000 South Koreans remain on the waiting list to see their relatives, many in their 80s and 90s, our correspondent adds.

The upcoming reunions, slated to be held at the Diamond Mountain resort in Mount Kumgang from 20 to 26 October, will see 100 people from each side selected.

Korean family reunions

  • The reunions are handled by Red Cross officials working in both countries. Tens of thousands usually apply to the organisation in Seoul.
  • A computer will randomly select about 500 candidates, after taking into account their ages and family background.
  • Red Cross officials in Seoul will then conduct interviews and medical exams to see if applicants are fit to travel, and narrow the list to 250. The North will put forward 200 people.
  • South Korea will ask for "confirmation of the living status" of the families, before the final lists are exchanged.

Source: Korea Red Cross

The decision came after Red Cross officials from both countries held talks earlier this week at the border village of Panmunjom.

Communication between relatives across the border is highly restricted and almost non-existent. The two countries remain technically at war as the Korean War ended with an armistice.

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