Seoul on Thursday proposed talks with Pyongyang to resume reunions for thousands of families divided by the Korean War, saying time was running out for ageing relatives.
Millions of people were swept apart by the 1950-53 Korean War, which separated brothers and sisters, parents and children and husbands and wives.
Hostilities ceased with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving the North and South technically still at war and the peninsula split by the impenetrable Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), with all direct civilian exchanges — even mundane family news — banned.
“Today, the South Korean government proposes to hold talks with the North to discuss the issue of separated families,” said Unification Minister Kwon Young-se.
“We will approach this dialogue with an open mind, and make sure to take into account the preferences of the North including the date, venue, agenda and format of the talks in a positive manner.”
Time is running out for some 40,000 elderly family members in their 80s and 90s, Kwon said, with about 400 people passing away each month.
The proposal comes at a time of crumbling ties between the North and South, with Pyongyang blaming Seoul for the outbreak of Covid-19 in its territory and threatening retaliation.
The two sides have sporadically held family reunions in the past depending on the political relationship.
The last such meeting was held in 2018, during a period of rapprochement between Seoul and Pyongyang with then South Korean president Moon Jae-in facilitating talks between former US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
But Kim and Trump’s nuclear negotiations broke down in 2019 due to disagreements on sanctions relief and what North Korea would be willing to give up in return.
Since then, Pyongyang has largely cut off ties with Seoul and carried out a blitz of weapons tests, including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017.