SEOUL - South and North Korea agreed Friday to go ahead with reunions next month for families separated for decades by the 1950-53 Korean War, Seoul said.
The reunions will be held on September 25-30 at the North’s Mount Kumgang resort, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a press briefing. The ministry said 100 families from each side would be selected to take part in the temporary reunion programme, the first in three years.
For those too infirm to travel, reunions via video conferencing will be arranged for 40 families from each side, it said. “With today’s agreement, we set the stage for regular family reunions,” ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-Suk said. The two sides will push for another round of family reunions probably in November, he said.
The push to restart the reunions was initiated last week by South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, who urged Pyongyang to “open its heart” and agree to kickstart the programme in time for next month’s Chuseok holiday - when Korean families traditionally gather together.
The reunion programme was suspended after the North’s shelling of a South Korean border island in November 2010, and its resumption after three years would mark a symbolic but important step.
Meanwhile, a North Korean man turned up at a house on a South Korean island Friday having apparently succeeded in defecting overnight via a rare and dangerous sea border crossing. The man knocked on the door of a home on Gyodong island at 3:40 am (1840 GMT Thursday) and identified himself as a defector from the North, military authorities said.
He is in custody and being questioned, a defence official told AFP, adding that it was not immediately clear “how he made the crossing” during a stormy night with powerful tides.
Defections across the sea or land border between the two Koreas are rare. Most defectors flee to China and then a third country such as Thailand before coming to the South.
In September last year, a North Korean man made it to Gyodong island by clinging to a log that he said had been swept out to sea by flood waters.
A month later, a North Korean soldier cut his way undetected through rows of electrified fencing on the land border.
The two incidents, which came at a time of heightened military tension, sparked public concerns about security lapses and led to the dismissal of a South Korean army division commander and two field commanders from their posts.