Seoul Commits to Pursuing Family Reunions Despite North Korean Tensions

SEOUL — South Korea's unification minister pledged on Saturday to continue efforts to reunite families separated by the Korean War (1950-53), asserting that provocations from North Korea will not hinder Seoul's commitment to resolving the issue. The statement came during an annual event for separated families and individuals born in North Korea who relocated to the South after the conflict. Participants gathered in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, to honor their ancestors and relatives in the North by bowing in their direction to mark the Lunar New Year.

According to Yonhap News Agency, Seoul is determined to find lasting solutions for the separated families and individuals abducted by North Korea. "The government will not be swayed by any provocations or actions from North Korea," he stated. He emphasized the importance of dialogue with Pyongyang on humanitarian grounds and urged North Korea to engage seriously, setting aside political considerations.

The minister highlighted the necessity of re-establishing the inter-Korean liaison communication channel, which North Korea severed in April of the previous year, as a starting point for addressing humanitarian issues. He criticized North Korea for the deterioration of inter-Korean relations and called on Pyongyang to resume normal operation of the communication channel. "To separated families, who have endured the war and division on the Korean Peninsula, the recent actions by North Korea are utterly condemnable. North Korea must cease provocations that threaten our people's survival and acknowledge the suffering of separated families," he said.

The issue of family reunions has become increasingly urgent as many members of separated families in South Korea have passed away without the opportunity to reunite with their relatives in North Korea, due to the strained relations between the two Koreas. Government statistics reveal that, as of November 2023, there were 39,881 surviving members of separated families, with 65.6 percent aged 80 or older.

Since a landmark summit in 2000, the divided Koreas have conducted 21 rounds of family reunions, allowing over 20,000 relatives to meet after decades of separation. The most recent reunions occurred in 2018. Despite South Korea's proposal in 2022 to hold discussions on family reunions, North Korea has not yet responded.

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