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Park Proposes Resumption of Inter-Korean Family Reunions

  • VOA News

South Korean President Park Geun-hye delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the 68th anniversary of the liberation from the Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, in Seoul, August 15, 2013.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the 68th anniversary of the liberation from the Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, in Seoul, August 15, 2013.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has proposed the resumption of meetings between families separated by the 1950s Korean war, a day after the two Koreas agreed to restart a stalled joint factory project.

During a televised speech Thursday to mark the anniversary of Korea's independence from Japan, President Park suggested the reunions be held around next month's annual Chuseok harvest holiday. "Around this Chuseok, I ask North Korea to open its heart to allow a reunion of separated families,"she announced.

North Korea proposed talks last month on resuming the family reunions, but later pulled back the offer. It has not responded to South Korea's latest proposal.

The reunions have not been held in three years. They were a major feature of Seoul's "Sunshine Policy" of warmer relations with the North, which ended with the election of Park's predecessor, Lee Myung-bak. Around 20,000 Koreans were able to meet with separated family members during the reunions.

President Park also proposed the construction of a peace park in the heavily militarized buffer zone separating the two countries, which she called the "legacy of our division and confrontation."

Her speech comes a day after the two Koreas reached a landmark deal to re-open the symbolically important Kaesong manufacturing complex, which was closed earlier this year during heightened military tensions.

Park welcomed the agreement, saying she hoped it would "correct wrong practices" of past Korean relations and help bring on "new relations of coexistence."

Many analysts say the Kaesong deal represents a diplomatic success for Park. A joint statement released Wednesday suggested Pyongyang gave in to Seoul's demand for a pledge to prevent any future shutdowns of the Kaesong complex.

Both sides also agreed to try to attract foreign companies to the complex.

A joint committee will be formed to refurbish the facilities and consider compensation for South Korean firms affected by the shutdown. The two sides did not give an official date for resuming operations.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he is encouraged by the agreement and hopes operations will be normalized as quickly as possible and that the complex faces no further interruptions.

In April, North Korea withdrew its 53,000 workers from Kaesong. It was angered by U.S.-South Korean military exercises and international sanctions following its February nuclear test. South Korean businesses pulled out their managers and workers in early May.

The industrial park, which manufactured goods with cheap North Korean labor, provided a key source of foreign income to the leadership of the impoverished North. It is located just north of the inter-Korean border
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