Pyongyang sent a notice in the name of its Red Cross chairman Thursday morning, saying that the atmosphere was not yet right to hold working-level contacts between Red Cross officials to discuss the family reunion issue, Xinhua reported citing the South Korean unification ministry.
Given the current inter-Korean relations, such a significant humanitarian issue as the regularisation of family reunions cannot be discussed through the Red Cross channel, the notice said, indicating Pyongyang's willingness to discuss the issue in a high-level dialogue. The two Koreas have agreed to hold another round of high-level talks when both sides feel comfortable after holding the vice ministerial-level dialogue in mid-February, the first of such kind in around seven years.
Pyongyang's rejection came a day after Seoul made the proposal to hold working-level contacts between Red Cross officials March 12 at the Peace House, an administrative building in the South Korean side of the border village of Panmunjeom.
Seoul's proposal came as a follow-up to President Park Geun-hye's recent calls for such a discussion. Park proposed last Saturday to North Korea to regularise face-to-face reunions at a ceremony marking the 1919 nationwide uprising against the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule.
Park said that time was running out for the separated families due to old age, noting that at least 6,000 people should be allowed to meet their relatives per year so that the war-divided families can reunite with their relatives at least once before they die.
Millions of Koreans have been separated since the three-year Korean War ended in armistice in 1953. Around 22,000 Koreans met their long-lost relatives in the 19 rounds of family reunions from 1985 to 2014. The 19th round of the six-day family reunion ended Feb 25 in North Korea's scenic resort of Mount Kumgang. Hundreds of Koreans met their long-lost relatives for the first time in six decades as they have been banned from exchanging letters and phone calls since 1953.
According to government data, more than 70,000 South Koreans have been on the waiting list for family reunion since 1988, with all the applicants expected to pass away within 20 years from now due to old age.