SEOUL — In a sign of improving ties, North and South Korea agreed Friday to revive an emotionally charged humanitarian program next month that allows family members on both sides of the border to meet for the first time since the Korean War six decades ago.
After a day of negotiations, held at the border village of Panmunjom, officials from both capitals agreed to hold a round of family reunions allowing 100 people from each side to meet their relatives from the other side at the Diamond Mountain resort in southeastern North Korea from Sept. 25 to Sept. 30. Another round is expected in November, they said.
Separately, they also agreed to hold online family reunions on Oct. 22 and 23, allowing 40 families from each side to meet their relatives through video conferences.
The revival of family reunions after a three-year hiatus is expected to further accelerate the rival Korean governments’ move toward a thaw after months of high tensions. It was particularly welcome news for 73,000 South Koreans — half of them more than 80 years old — who are on a waiting list for a chance to meet with relatives in the North. Out of them, only 100 will be selected by lottery for the reunions in September. North Korea is believed to give priority to those considered loyal to its government.
Hopes for improved ties began to rise in recent weeks, as the rival governments de-escalated their confrontational rhetoric of earlier this year and tensions appeared to ease. On Aug. 14, the two Koreas agreed to reopen a joint industrial park in Kaesong, North Korea, that was shut down four months ago.
During the talks Friday, the chief North Korean negotiator, Pak Yong-il, urged South Korea to seize the momentum created by the Kaesong agreement, South Korean officials said.
In a sharp turnaround from its threats of war earlier this year, North Korea has been calling for inter-Korean reconciliation, proposing talks to revive a number of joint projects suspended in recent years, including South Korean tours to Diamond Mountain, a scenic destination that was visited by nearly 2 million South Koreans from 1998 to 2008, when a jointly operated tour program was suspended.
But South Korean officials remain wary of the North’s motives. In the past, North Korea has demanded and often won large humanitarian aid shipments from the South in return for agreeing to family reunions. The agreement Friday made no mention of possible aid for the North.