Monday, February 3, 2014

DPRK proposes working-level contacts for family reunion this week

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) proposed Monday to South Korea to hold the working- level contacts between Red Cross officials within this week, Seoul ' s Unification Ministry said.

Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do told an emergency press conference that Pyongyang accepted Seoul's earlier proposal for the working-level contact, saying that the DPRK offered to hold the meeting on Wednesday or Thursday at South Korea's convenience at Tonilgak, an administrative building on the DPRK side of the truce village of Panmunjeom.

Kim said that the DPRK sent the notice of such proposal at around 10 a.m. through the Panmunjeom liaison office.

A week earlier, Seoul offered to hold the working-level contact on Jan. 29 to sort out details on the agreed family reunion, but it failed to be held as Pyongyang gave no response.

On Jan. 24, the two Koreas agreed to hold the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. Seoul proposed the reunion date to be held from Feb. 17 to 22, which Pyongyang had agreed to.

The South Korean government hailed the DPRK's response to its suggestion though belatedly, the spokesman said, adding that it will decide on and notify the DPRK of the contact date within Monday.

The two Koreas originally planned to hold the reunion event in late September last year for relatives of both sides who failed to meet each other for six decades as the civil war ended in armistice, not peace treaty.

The DPRK, however, abruptly delayed the reunion at the last minute. At that time, Pyongyang sought to link the humanitarian event to the resumption of tour to its scenic resort of Mount Kumgang, but Seoul tried to deal with the humanitarian issue separately from the tourism issue.

Tensions eased on the Korean Peninsula after Kim Jong Un, top leader of the DPRK, said in his New Year's address that Pyongyang will "created atmosphere to ameliorate the relations" between the two Koreas.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye responded positively to Kim's speech, proposing at her New Year's press conference to hold the family reunion.

Since Kim's speech, the DPRK repeated its peace overture, saying that the two Koreas should stop all hostile acts starting from Jan. 30 on the eve of the Lunar New Year.

Concerns remained ahead of the annual joint military drills between Seoul and Washington. The South Korean military has confirmed that it will conduct the Key Resolve and the Foal Eagle war games with the United States from late February to April as scheduled, noting that the military exercises were defensive in nature.

Last year, the U.S. Air Force's B-2 stealth bombers carried out its first-ever firing drill in South Korea during the joint exercises. The U.S. military also deployed other nuclear-capable weapons such as B-52 bombers and submarine USS Cheyenne.

It was known that no U.S. aircraft carrier would participate in this year's joint military drills in what appeared to be their efforts to minimize the possible backlash from the DPRK, which denounced the exercises as the rehearsal for the northward invasion.