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(3rd LD) S. Korea positive about N.K. proposal for family reunions: gov't official

All Headlines 12:08 September 11, 2010

(ATTN: ADDS more quotes by unification ministry official; AMENDS lead, quote in 2nd para, background at bottom)

SEOUL, Sept. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is positively considering North Korea's proposal to resume reunions of families living separately on the divided Korean Peninsula amid signs of a turnaround in the frozen cross-border relationship, a unification ministry official here said Saturday.

"We received a message from the North Korean Red Cross Society yesterday, proposing reunions of separated families on the peninsula," the official said, confirming a North Korean media report on the proposal.

"The South's Korean National Red Cross is positively reviewing this and will come up with measures through consultations with the government down the road," the official said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. "Nothing has been decided yet," he added.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the country's Red Cross sent a message to the South on Friday encouraging a fresh round of family reunions to be held at the resort mountain of Geumgang on the east coast around the Korean fall harvest holiday, Chuseok. This year's holiday falls on Sept. 22.

The North also proposed that working-level Red Cross officials of the two sides meet "at an earliest possible date" to discuss the resumption, according to the KCNA.

But the reunion event is unlikely to be held before the Chuseok holiday as such events usually take at least a month to prepare, according to the unification ministry official.

The last round of family reunions was held in the North's mountain resort in September of last year for the first time in nearly two years. The Koreas failed the following month to agree on a new round of reunions.

The offer comes amid hopes for a possible rapprochement in inter-Korean ties. The South's Red Cross last week proposed to its North Korean counterpart that it would send 10 billion won (US$8.4 million) in flood aid that excludes rice. The North's Red Cross, in a reply to the offer, requested that the staple be sent along with cement and excavators.

Inter-Korean relations have come to a virtual standstill after the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean warship, near their western sea border in March. A Seoul-led multinational investigation team concluded two months later that the North downed the 1,200-ton patrol ship in a torpedo attack.

Dialogue between the two Koreas has been cut off since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008 and vowed to link inter-Korean relations to progress in North Korea's denuclearization.

The reunions began following the historic first inter-Korean summit in 2000. More than 127,000 people in the South have since signed up for the reunions, though nearly a third of them have died of old age. About one in 800 is selected.

Around 16,000 people have been reunited through face-to-face reunions so far. Some 600,000 South Koreans are believed to have family in the North.


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