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Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

FILE - A North Korean man escorts his relatives as they reunite with their South Korean family members at Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea, Feb. 21, 2014.

FILE - A North Korean man escorts his relatives as they reunite with their South Korean family members at Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea, Feb. 21, 2014.

To prepare for the resumption of reunions for families separated since the Korean War, North and South Korea have exchanged lists of top working-level envoys for discussions.

The two Koreas agreed to resume the reunion events at last month’s high-level negotiations to ease tensions on the peninsula.

Seoul Korean Red Cross official Lee Duk-haeng will head his government’s delegation to speak with his North Korean counterpart, Park Yong Il. Lee and Park headed the respective delegations in talks before the last family reunion held in February 2014.

At the upcoming talks, the officials will discuss the date, venue and number of participants for the reunion. The South Korean government has made clear it wishes to hold the event around the Chuseok holidays, September 26-29.

As Seoul is trying to hold the reunion as soon as possible, given the participants’ age, it will most likely agree to whatever venue the North suggests. Pyongyang is expected to suggest holding the talks at its scenic Mount Kumgang visitor center, where the past few reunions were held.

Seoul wants to raise a wide agenda at the working-level talks. In addition to checking the whereabouts of divided families across the border and making the reunions a regular affair, it also wants to discuss allowing letter exchanges between the families and video reunions.

Hometown visits

The South’s unification minister, Hong Yong-pyo, told reporters Thursday that his government was also working toward making it possible for South Koreans who originated in North Korea to visit their hometowns.

Hong was part of the South Korean delegation that engaged in three days of intense negotiations with the North late last month.

In South Korea, more than 4,000 people with families in North Korea die every year of old age. The South’s Park Geun-hye government has said repeatedly that relieving the grief of separated families is one of its priorities.

According to data provided by the Korean Red Cross to the South Korean parliament, people over age 80 account for 54 percent of all separated family members in the South. An average of 12 separated family members have died per day during the past 15 years.

Since 2000, there have been 19 family reunions between the two Koreas and 18,000 people have met relatives, but that is only 15 percent of all separated family members.

An official with the Korean Red Cross, who preferred to remain anonymous, broke down the numbers in a phone interview with VOA News.

“There have been 19 face-to-face reunions and seven video reunions. Through these two media, 12,297 South Koreans and 6,502 North Koreans were able to meet their long-lost loved ones,” the official said.

If realized, the next round of family reunions around the Chuseok holidays will mark the second such event during the Park administration, after a 20-month hiatus.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.