Two Koreas to discuss reunions for split families

North Korean Yun Young-Seob hugs his South Korean sister Yun Bok-Seob at a 2007 reunion in North Korea.
North and South Korea will hold three days of talks on reunions for families torn apart by the Korean War and divisions between the two countries, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Tuesday.

The talks, which begin Wednesday, will be the first on the subject in almost two years. The International Red Cross said it was sending delegates to mediate the talks, which will be held at the Mount Keumgang resort in North Korea. North Korea was also to schedule an early-October reunion for families across the peninsula who where separated in the aftermath of the Korean War, KCNA reported earlier this month. Rapprochement talks between the two sides have hit a wall since conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in early 2008 with a tougher stance toward the North than his liberal predecessor, Roh Moo-Hyun. Tuesday’s announcement was the latest sign of potential thawing in the icy relationship between the two Koreas, which have technically remained in conflict since the Korean War ended in 1953. The Korean conflict ended in a truce, but no formal peace treaty was ever signed. Lee met last week, prior to the funeral of former South Korean President Kim Dai-jung, with a visiting North Korean delegation, who delivered a message from Kim Jong Il expressing hopes for improved relations between the two countries.

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Although the president reiterated his firm stance on North Korea, South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In Taek met with North Korean unity leader Kim Yang Gon on Saturday. The meetings between officials of the two Koreas are in stark contrast to the tense public statements they made about each other earlier this year. Tensions between the two were heightened in July when North Korea launched seven short-range missiles toward the Sea of Japan. The launches came after North Korea conducted a nuclear test on May 25 and threatened the United States and South Korean ships near its territorial waters. South Korea condemned the action, calling the launches “provocative” and “unwise.” South Korea is expected to make a second attempt to launch its first satellite later Tuesday after aborting a launch last week when a piece of equipment malfunctioned minutes before launch. Earlier this month, South Korea responded positively, but cautiously, to a joint agreement announced Monday between North Korea and the South’s Hyundai Group to resume cross-border tourism, ease border controls and facilitate cross-border family reunions. Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said that the two sides needed to reach an agreement through direct talks. A Hyundai subsidiary handles all tourism and business projects between the Koreas. The announcement of the agreement followed a weekend meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Hyundai chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun. Under the agreement, South Korean tourists would again be able to travel north across the border to Mt. Keumgang, a popular resort in the communist nation, North Korea’s state-run KCNA reported. Tours to Keumgang were halted in July 2008 after North Korean soldiers killed a South Korean tourist who strayed into a restricted area.