CHOE SANG-HUN, SEOUL(NY Times): President Park Geun-hye of South Korea said Thursday that South and North Korea should resume arranging reunions of families separated by the Korean War six decades ago, and she renewed a proposal to build an “international peace park” straddling their heavily armed border.
Park’s conciliatory overtures came a day after the two Koreas agreed to reopen an idled joint industrial park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, a deal that indicated that Seoul and Pyongyang were moving toward a thaw after months of tensions this year. The Kaesong agreement also appeared to give impetus to Park’s “trustpolitik” policy, which calls for building trust with North Korea as a foundation for more serious negotiations on ending the North’s nuclear weapons programs in exchange for helping the country rebuild its economy.
“South and North Korea must leave mistrust and confrontation behind and open the door for a new era of peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula,” Park said in her nationally televised speech, which marked the anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule with the end of World War II. “If North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons program, we can open a new era on the peninsula and work together to ease the pain and difficulties of the North Korean people.”
Park proposed that reunions of separated families be held around the holiday of Chuseok on Sept. 19, traditionally a time for family gatherings in both Koreas.
Since the division of Korea in 1945 and the Korean War of 1950-53, which ended in a stalemate, millions of Koreans have been separated from parents, siblings and children across the border, with no direct mail service or telephone links between the countries. Family reunions have been a highly emotional issue, as many aging Koreans who lived through the war have died without seeing their relatives again.
With relations between the Koreas having soured in recent years, there have been no reunions since 2010. Tens of thousands of elderly South Koreans are still on a waiting list to be selected by lottery for the reunion program if it is revived.
Last month North Korea proposed talks to arrange more reunions. But it withdrew the offer after the South rejected a separate proposal to discuss resuming South Korean tours to a North Korean mountain, a program that ended in 2008 after North Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean tourist.
The South insists that it can discuss resuming that jointly operated tourism project only if the North apologizes for the tourist’s killing. Many South Korean conservatives also oppose the tourism program itself, which had served as an important source of hard currency for the Pyongyang government.
Park first proposed an “international peace park” inside the 2.5-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone in May, during a speech before the U.S. Congress. The DMZ, a stretch of no-man’s land bisecting the Korean Peninsula that was created to keep the rival Korean armies apart after the war, is one of the world’s most heavily militarized frontiers, guarded on both sides by minefields, barbed wire, tank traps and millions of battle-ready troops.
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