Seoul, Jan 24: South Korea Friday welcomed North Korea’s acceptance of its recent proposal to hold reunion of separated families, heralding a thaw in inter-Korean relations amid Pyongyang’s repeated peace call.
Seoul’s unification ministry said in a statement that North Korea sent a notice in the name of the Red Cross at around 6 p.m. Friday to propose holding reunion meeting of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, Xinhua reported.
The notice said that the family reunion will be held in North Korea’s scenic resort of Mount Kumgang as agreed upon before, but it noted that the date of the event can be determined according to he South Korea’s convenience after the Lunar New Year holiday passes by and the weather starts to thaw.
North Korea said that other issues would be discussed through the Red Cross communication channels at the truce village of Panmunjom.
“North Korea turned up a card that the South cannot rebuff. The North showed flexible attitude to prove its sincerity (over its recent peace call),” Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the private Sejong Institute in Seoul, said over phone.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye proposed at her New Year’ s press conference to resume the family reunion process around the Lunar New Year that falls Jan 31, but North Korea rejected the offer saying that obstacles should be removed.
Pyongyang called for Seoul to cancel its annual joint military drills with Washington scheduled for late February to April, but South Korea rejected the demand, saying that the exercise is defensive in nature.
The National Defense Commission sent an open letter Thursday on a special order from North Korea’s top leader Kim Jong-un, saying that Pyongyang’s repeated peace call was not “camouflaged”, the official KCNA news agency reported Friday.
On Jan 16, the commission said in its “important proposal” that the two Koreas should stop all hostile acts starting from Jan 30 on the eve of the Lunar New Year.
Responding to North Korea’s open letter, South Korea expressed doubt about the sincerity of the former’s recent peace overture on Friday, urging Pyongyang to accept the family reunion proposal.
As North Korea accepted Seoul’s proposal for the humanitarian event, inter-Korean relations are expected to ease.
Seoul’s unification ministry has claimed that if Pyongyang keeps its word and builds trust with Seoul, there will be no issues that cannot be discussed between the two Koreas.
North Korea has asked South Korea to talk about the resumption of the tour to the Mount Kumgang resort, which Seoul said should be discussed separately from the family reunion.
The two Koreas originally planned to hold the family reunion in late September last year, but North Korea abruptly delayed the humanitarian event at the last minute.
South Korea’s Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said Wednesday that North Korea failed to keep its word, citing the cancelled family reunion event last year.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year’s address that Pyongyang would create the atmosphere to mend relations with South Korea.
Cheong at the Sejong Institute cautioned that it would have some limitations in improving the inter-Korean ties given the scheduled joint military drills between Seoul and Washington.
South Korean military has confirmed that it would conduct the Key Resolve and the Foal Eagle war games with the US from late February to April as scheduled, noting that the drills were defensive in nature.
Last year, the US Air Force’s B-2 stealth bombers carried out its first ever firing drill in South Korea during the joint exercises.
The US military also deployed other nuclear-capable weapons such as B-52 bombers and the submarine USS Cheyenne.
It was known that no US aircraft carrier would participate in this year’s joint military drills in what appeared to be their efforts to minimise the possible backlash from North Korea, which denounced the exercises as a rehearsal for northward invasion.