03/21/2006, 00.00
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Separated families meet amid rising tensions

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young

This is the thirteenth such reunion after the first historic meeting in 2000. Meanwhile, tension between the two Koreas remains high thanks to imminent military exercises with the US, "a foreign and hostile nation".

Seoul (AsiaNews) – Another session of "reunification of Korean families" is under way, an event held on a "regular basis" since the first, historic encounter in August 2000. This is the thirteenth time that Seoul and Pyongyang agree to allow family reunions among people of the peninsula.

This session is divided into two: the first, to end on 22 March, is made up of a group of 99 South Koreans who got permission to re-embrace relatives living on the other side of the peninsula, a total of 270 North Koreans. A second group of some 430 South Koreans will have their reunion on March 23-25.

Among them is Seo Soon-ae, 66 years, reunited with her husband Cheon Moon-seok, 76 years, after 37 years. Cheon was abducted by North Korean Intelligence officials while fishing near Yeonpyeong Island. Among other "now North Korean citizens", were political prisoners and alleged spies from the south who were imprisoned in lager camps after the end of the civil war.

The meetings, which are organized by the Red Cross organizations of both countries, are taking place in a hotel on the slopes of Kumgang Mountain; this summit has been contested since the end of the Korean civil war (1950 – 1953) however it is governed de facto by Pyongyang.

This session is particularly relevant because it coincides with joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea. Pyongyang has spoken out strongly against the decision to hold the week of exercises, starting on 25 March, and he denounced the presence of military troops from a "foreign and hostile country" on the southern part of the Korean peninsula.

To make its disappointment clear, the government of the Stalinist regime threatened to cancel the reunion and called off the visit of the South Korean Unification Minister, Lee Jong-seok, and preliminary meetings to consider a joint fishing zone in the East Sea.

A petition presented by the people and a telephone message to the government of Seoul convinced Pyongyang to give the green light for the meeting.

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