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(LEAD) S. Korea starts overhauling facilities in preparation for video reunions of war-torn families

North Korea 15:25 April 03, 2019

(ATTN: CHANGES dateline; ADDS more info, photo)
By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, April 3 (Yonhap-Joint Press Corps) -- South Korea started overhauling about a dozen video conferencing centers across the nation Wednesday as it prepares to organize a new round of video-linked reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

"Today, repair work started on 13 domestic video reunion centers. If the work is complete in late April, we plan to test the facilities for two weeks," Baik Tae-hyun, the ministry's spokesman, told a regular press briefing.

"Our top priority is to remove any possible inconveniences for separated families in their old age and also provide high-definition images in terms of technological aspects," he added.

Those reunion centers located across the country, including five places in Seoul, have not been used for more than a decade since the two Koreas held their latest video reunions in 2007. North Korea has its own video reunion center in Pyongyang.

Renovation work is underway at a video reunion center set up inside South Korea's Red Cross building in central Seoul on April 3, 2019, with a monitor being taken down. (Yonhap)

The government started the repair and renovation work earlier in the day at a reunion center inside South Korea's Red Cross building in central Seoul, with previously installed monitors and other image-sending equipment removed.

Communications equipment and fiber optic lines will be upgraded, with some reunion venues to be relocated to lower floors for the convenience of older people, a Red Cross official said.

The leaders of the two Koreas agreed in their September summit to hold video reunions and exchanges of video letters among separated families, a move aimed at reducing travel for those mostly in their 70s and older and providing more people a chance to see their long-lost family members.

South Korea recently received sanctions exemptions from the U.N. Security Council and the United States for equipment needed to be sent to the North for operation of the Pyongyang reunion center.

The Seoul government plans to discuss with North Korea when they will hold the reunions as soon as it completes its internal preparations.

The separated families issue is one of the most pressing humanitarian matters for the Koreas as more aging Koreans have passed away without a chance to meet their kin across the border.

Since the first-ever summit of their leaders in 2000, the Koreas have held 21 rounds of face-to-face family reunion events, including the most recent one last August. They mostly involved just around 100 families from each side.

Separately, the two sides also held seven rounds of video reunions between 2005 and 2007. A total of 557 families or 3,748 people from both sides joined the video reunions.

South and North Korea remain technically at war as the Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

(LEAD) S. Korea starts overhauling facilities in preparation for video reunions of war-torn families - 2

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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