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September 10, 2010

S. Korea Considering Pyongyang's Proposal on Renewing Separated Family Visits

After months of rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, there is another small sign of a thawing. North Korea proposes re-starting the reunion program for separated families.

South Korea's Unification Ministry says it is considering "positively" the North Korean proposal.

Pyongyang's central news agency says the North Korean Red Cross Society on Friday sent a message to its counterpart in Seoul.

After a two-year hiatus, the family reunion program resumed a year ago. It brought together hundreds of Koreans from both sides of the demilitarized zone. Some of the relatives had not seen each other in nearly 60 years. The program went on hiatus again amid North Korea's request for massive aid from the South.

Ties between the two Koreas, which have no diplomatic relations, went into a further chill after the sinking of a South Korean warship in March. Forty-six South Korean sailors died. An international investigation blamed a North Korean torpedo for the destruction of the Cheonan in the Yellow Sea. Pyongyang has repeatedly denied any involvement.

In recent weeks there have been other signals from Pyongyang that it is looking to improve relations with South Korea and its allies. North Korea freed an American imprisoned there. Last Tuesday, it released a South Korean fishing boat and its crew of seven it had seized a month ago. And Pyongyang requested aid from Seoul for flood relief.

Diplomats are involved in discussions on the possibility of resuming the stalled six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear programs, which have resulted in international sanctions on Pyongyang.

A key Chinese diplomat, Wu Dawei, has conferred with his counterparts in a number of capitals. The chief American official in charge of policy towards North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, arrives in Seoul on Sunday.

The talks, involving both Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, have been in deadlock for nearly two years.