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Moon wants reunions on the agenda

Persuading North may depend on return of some 13 defectors
Apr 10,2018
The South Korean government is trying to persuade North Korea to add reunions of families separated during the Korean War to the agenda for the inter-Korean summit on April 27, and for the reunions to be held on a regular basis. But Pyongyang officials have not given a direct answer, a high-level government official in Seoul exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo Monday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said Seoul relayed the suggestion through several direct and indirect communication channels between the two countries, but was vaguely told, “Let’s talk about everything during the summit.”

Seoul wants to hold the reunions regularly, said the source, unlike the past when they were special occasions when inter-Korean relations were cozy. The last such reunion was held in October 2015 under the former Park Geun-hye administration.

Getting Pyongyang to agree to discussing the issue won’t be easy.

North Korea has vehemently rejected South Korea’s proposal to hold a reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War since 12 workers from a restaurant in China run by the Pyongyang regime defected to South Korea in April 2016. The North claimed they were kidnapped by South Korea’s spy agency, while Seoul argues they defected voluntarily.

Last June, South Korean lawmakers called on the North to cooperate in holding a reunion on Aug. 15 to mark Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945. In response, Kim Yong-chol, an official from the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, told the Agence France-Presse there can “never be any kind of humanitarian cooperation” between the two countries unless the 13 North Koreans “detained” in the South are returned.

That number includes the restaurant workers and Kim Ryon-hui, a vocal Kim Jong-un champion here who wishes to go back home. She left Pyongyang to seek advanced medical treatment in China for a liver illness. She claims to have been deceived by a Chinese broker in 2011, who told her she could make a fortune in the South and then return to China or North Korea.

According to the source who spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo, South Korean officials raised the family reunion subject on Jan. 9 when the two Koreas held a high-level meeting, but was told that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the South to repatriate the restaurant workers - which is why Seoul hopes to reach a breakthrough on April 27 by having South Korean President Moon Jae-in directly deal with Kim in their first face-to-face interaction.

On other agenda items, the government official said that the “most crucial” issue of all would be North Korea’s denuclearization.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]