The two Koreas held talks on Friday where they discussed organising a reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and other humanitarian issues, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.
The talks started at around 10 am at a hotel on Mount Kumgang on the North’s scenic east coast, reports Yonhap News Agency.
South Korea’s four-member delegation is led by Park Kyung-seo, head of the Korean Red Cross.
The North sent a three-member delegation headed by Pak Yong-il, vice chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country.
“Following the June 15 joint statement and the Panmunjom Declaration, we have returned to a precious place where we can have a chance to care for the wound and the predicament in our people’s mind and explore ways to seek reconciliation and unity,” Pak, the North’s chief delegate, told at the start of the meeting.
He referred to the inter-Korean agreement reached in the June 15, 2000 summit and the declaration South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un adopted in their summit on April 27 at the truce village of Panmunjom.
“It is in and of itself meaningful in that we have come together in our famous mountain to hold Red Cross talks and discuss a reunion of people torn from their families and relatives,” he added.
Park, the South’s chief delegate, called for each side to work together to make the meeting a success by holding the talks “from a humanitarian perspective”.
Their morning session, attended by all delegates, ended after 45 minutes; it is expected to be followed by subsequent talks.
The Red Cross meeting is a follow up on the April summit agreement in which the leaders promised to hold a reunion of people divided by the war on the occasion of the August 15 Liberation Day.
If held, it would mark the first family reunion since October 2015.
Data showed that the registered number of South Koreans seeking to meet their loved ones in the North totaled 132,124 as of end-May, of which only about 57,000 remain alive. Some 86 per cent of them are in their 70s and older.
A daunting challenge is to confirm whereabouts of the lost families in North Korea, an issue that requires close cooperation by North Korea.
According to a survey conducted by the Unification Ministry in 2016, 74.4 per cent of separated families did not know if and where their loved ones are living in the North.
A total of 20 rounds of face-to-face family reunion events have been held since the leaders of the two Koreas met in 2000. Some 19,800 people from both sides have been involved in the process.
Another issue that could be brought up for discussion by North Korea might be a group of female restaurant workers who defected to the South from China in 2016. Their return to the North had been a major precondition for discussing holding a reunion of separated families.
Observers said that the two could also discuss granting humanitarian assistance to the North during the Red Cross meeting as the sense of rapprochement between the two Koreas is growing.
Last year, the Seoul government announced a plan to provide $8 million worth of humanitarian assistance to the North through international aid agencies but the plan was put on the back burner amid escalating tensions caused by the North’s nuclear and missile provocations.