Unification minister ‘strongly’ urges N. Korea to respond to dialogue offer over separated families

September 27, 2023

South Korea’s point man on North Korea “strongly” called on North Korea on Wednesday to respond to Seoul’s offer for talks to discuss the issue of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho made the call during a ceremony commemorating Separated Families Day.

Earlier this year, South Korea designated Aug. 13 on the lunar calendar, which is two days before the Chuseok fall harvest holiday, as a commemorative day to raise public awareness of the issue of separated families.

This photo, taken Sept. 14, 2023, shows Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho speaking at a press conference in Seoul. (Yonhap)
This photo, taken Sept. 14, 2023, shows Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho speaking at a press conference in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The divided Koreas have held 13 rounds of reunions since a landmark summit in 2000, bringing together more than 20,000 family members who had not seen each other since the war.

South and North Korea have usually staged family reunions around Chuseok, a major holiday that is celebrated in both countries, and other important national holidays. The two sides last staged temporary family reunions in 2018.

Last September, South Korea proposed holding talks with North Korea to try to discuss family reunions, a pressing humanitarian issue on the Korean Peninsula, as most separated family members are in their 70s and 80s and wish to see their long-lost relatives before they die.

Still, North Korea has remained silent on South Korea’s offer and cut off inter-Korean communication channels amid tensions over Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programs.

On Monday, North Korea called South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol a “puppet traitor,” and South Korea’s unification ministry criticized North Korea for rebuking Yoon with “vulgar” remarks, saying it is not even worth commenting on.

“I am strongly urging North Korea to respond to it before it’s too late when it comes to the issue of divided families and show the responsible attitude in front of history and people,” Kim said.

In South Korea, some 133,700 have applied for family reunions. More than 93,000 of them have already died, according to the unification ministry.

There are no direct means of contact between ordinary civilians of the two countries that remain divided by a heavily fortified border.

The inter-Korean border has been sealed since the war, and no South Koreans or North Koreans can visit the other side without government approval, which is rarely given.