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S. Korea seeks talks with North on family reunions

Update: February, 14/2012 - 11:33

SEOUL – South Korea on Tuesday proposed talks with North Korea on restarting a reunion programme for families who have been separated for decades, a move which could help ease months of high tensions.

Yu Jung-keun, head of the South's Red Cross, told reporters she made the offer in a message to her North Korean counterpart.

The South suggested talks either in the North's Kaesong city or the South's Munsan, near the heavily fortified border. The North has not yet responded.

"The offer was made to help ease the pain of separated families suffering from the division (of the peninsula)," Yu said.

"We sent the message to the North today with the hope that reunions will take place this spring after a preparation of more than a month."

Hundreds of thousands of family members were separated during the 1950-53 war. There are no civilian mail or phone connections across the border, and many do not even know whether their relatives are alive or dead.

Inter-Korean relations have been tense for almost two years and the North's new leaders have vowed never to have dealings with the current Seoul government.

They accuse it of disrespect during the mourning period for the North's leader Kim Jong-il, who died on December 17 and was succeeded by his son Jong-un.

The last temporary reunions, arranged by the two Koreas' Red Cross authorities but authorised by governments on both sides, began in October 2010.

Since 2000, sporadic events have briefly reunited more than 17,000 people face-to-face and an estimated 3,700 – usually those too frail to travel – via video link.

But 80,000 people in the South alone are on the waiting list for reunions and thousands die every year before getting their chance. AFP

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