Korean reunions closer despite North/South unease

South Koreans bid farewell to their North Korean families following a reunion in the Diamond Mountain resort in 2004. Picture: Getty
South Koreans bid farewell to their North Korean families following a reunion in the Diamond Mountain resort in 2004. Picture: Getty
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SOUTH Korea is moving ahead with preparations for reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War despite rival North Korea talking about new rocket launches and nuclear tests.

South Korean officials have hinted they will try to proceed with planned reunions at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort from 20-26 October even if the North launches a satellite by then.

But analysts believe a dramatic provocation from the North could threaten the reunions as it would inevitably stoke military tensions on the divided peninsula.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, said: “Unlike the issue of economic or food aid, the Seoul government will be able to carry on with the family reunions even in the face of a North Korean provocation, without worrying about losing public support. However, since the reunions will be held in North Korea, they could be threatened by escalated military tension along the border, which might follow a rocket launch.”

North Korea has signalled it could mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party of Korea on 10 October with a satellite launch, and announced the restart of atomic fuel plants.

It prompted speculation it is preparing for its fourth nuclear test explosion.

A nuclear test or satellite launch would violate United Nations resolutions, the latter because the rocket technology needed can also be used to develop long-range missiles.

South Korean officials have said they have not yet detected any signs indicating preparations for a satellite launch.

A South Korean Defence Ministry official told the National Assembly last week Seoul would be able detect preparations for a nuclear test a month in advance, and one week for a rocket launch.

Yu-hwan said talk of the satellite launches and nuclear tests seemed to be part of the North’s attempts to push for talks with the United States and other nations so it could wrest concessions to improve its dismal economy.

Jeong Joon-Hee, a spokesman for South Korea’s unification ministry, said a team of South Korean officials inspected the Diamond Mountain facilities last week and came back convinced the conditions were good enough to hold the meetings.

He said: “There were some parts that needed fixing and refurbishment, and we plan to set a date with the North as quickly as possible to get those jobs done.”

The Koreas agreed to hold the reunions in an accord last month that eased a standoff which had flared after a mine explosion blamed on North Korea maimed two South Korean soldiers.

About 18,800 Koreans have participated in several highly emotional reunions between the rivals since 1985 but there has not been a reunion since early last year.

The rivals have a long history of failing to follow through on reconciliation 
efforts.

Planned reunions in 2013 were scrapped at the last minute because North Korea claimed the South was trying to overthrow its government.