North and South Korea to hold family reunions

Wednesday 05 February 2014 18.58
Delegations from North and South Korea shake hands over the reunion agreement
Delegations from North and South Korea shake hands over the reunion agreement

North and South Korea have agreed to allow some families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War to hold brief reunions.

The agreement comes despite a demand by the North Korean government that the South cancel planned war games with the United States.

Any kind of agreement between the two rivals is rare, and in the past North Korea has withdrawn permission for the event at the last minute.

A meeting of officials from North and South Korea agreed the reunions will take place between 20 and 25 February in Mount Kumgang, just north of the border, South Korea's Unification Ministry said.

At previous reunions, about 100 families have been allowed to meet relatives on the other side for fleeting moments before they are sent back to their respective homes.

Officially North Korea has not linked the reunions with its demand for the cancellation of the annual military exercises by the US and South Korea scheduled to begin this month.

But officials in the South say the intention is clear, and that its government will not fall in line.

"The drills have been conducted annually and they simply cannot be an issue for us as far as the reunions are concerned," said a South Korean government official involved in dealings with the North, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In recent weeks, North Korean diplomats have given rare media interviews and press conferences that have reiterated calls from Pyongyang's top ruling bodies to end the annual military drills.

The North's offer to allow the family reunions has been welcomed both by its sole major ally, China, and the United States, who were also on opposing sides in the Korean War.

The war left millions of families divided, with free private travel across the border and communication, including phone calls, banned.

More than 70,000 South Koreans have been seeking to meet lost family members at family reunions.

The successful ones are chosen by lottery.