South Korea proposes meeting with North on family reunions

South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Youngse speaks during a press conference at the Government Complex in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea on Thursday proposed a meeting with North Korea to resume reunions of families separated by war, despite long-strained ties between the rivals over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

It’s unclear if North Korea would accept the offer because it has already rejected the new South Korean government’s offer to provide massive aid in return for denuclearization.

“The South and the North should confront the painful parts of the reality. We must solve the matter before the term ‘separated families’ disappears,” Unification Minister Kwon Youngse said in a televised briefing. “We need to use all possible means immediately to come up with quick and fundamental measures.”

Kwon said South Korea hopes that responsible officials of the two Koreas will meet in person as soon as possible for a candid discussion.

Since the 1950-53 Korean War ended, the two Koreas have been banning millions of people who found themselves suddenly divided from visiting each other’s territory across the world’s most heavily fortified border. Decades later, most have no word on whether their loved ones are still alive.

The Koreas have occasionally allowed separated families to meet temporarily, but such a reunion hasn’t happened since 2018.

Family reunions are a highly emotional issue because most of the separated family members are now in their 80s and older and eager to reunite with their long-lost relatives before they die.