(3rd LD) Unification minister proposes talks with N. Korea on separated families
(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 7-8)
SEOUL, Sept. 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's unification minister publicly proposed talks with North Korea to discuss the issue of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, stressing the urgency of resolving it Thursday.
Kwon Young-se issued a statement offering inter-Korean dialogue on the eve of the Chuseok holiday, which is one of the biggest annual celebrations for both South and North Koreans.
He pointed out that many of those with family members on the other side of the heavily fortified border are in their 80s or 90s.
"(We) have to resolve the problem before the word itself of 'separated family' disappears," he said. "(The two sides) should map out swift and fundamental measures, using all available methods."
He added on-and-off reunion events involving a small number of families are not enough and stressed that his government is ready to hold dialogue with the North anytime, anywhere and regardless of format.
He said the South will "proactively" take the North's hopes into account in terms of a date, venue, agenda and format of the talks, as it is attempting to deliver a formal notice of the dialogue offer through the inter-Korean liaison hotline to Ri Son-gwon, the head of the North's ruling party's United Front Department tasked with handling inter-Korean relations.
Pyongyang, however, remained unresponsive to Seoul's overtures as of Thursday afternoon.
The unification ministry said it attempted to send the message again during their liaison call at 5 p.m. but the North ended the call without clearly stating whether it was willing to accept the letter.
As of end-August, there were 43,746 surviving South Koreans who had registered with the government to request it search for their separated family members in the North, with 37,264, or 85 percent of the total, aged 70 or older, according to the ministry's data.
Since their first-ever summit in 2000, the two Koreas have held 21 rounds of face-to-face family reunion events, with the last one taking place in August 2018.
They have a track record of organizing family reunion events on the occasion of the Chuseok holiday to celebrate the autumn harvest. This year's Chuseok falls on Saturday and the four-day holiday begins Friday.
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