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North Korea proposes family reunions with South

North Korea on Friday made a sudden proposal for the resumption of reunions for families separated since the Korean War, saying the programme could help improve cross-border ties.

SEOUL: North Korea on Friday made a sudden proposal for the resumption of reunions for families separated since the Korean War, saying the programme could help improve cross-border ties.

South Korea immediately welcomed the offer, which followed a recent series of trust-building gestures from the nuclear-armed communist country.

The North's Red Cross faxed a message to its South Korean counterpart, calling for a family reunion event after the the time of the Lunar New Year on January 31, according to its official Korean Central News Agency.

The North suggested that the South could choose a date for the event "at its convenience" after the Lunar New Year when the weather thaws.

Pyongyang's Red Cross agency is affiliated with the International Committee of the Red Cross but is under state control.

The North said the reunion programme would provide fresh momentum to improving ties following years of high tensions.

The South's unification ministry, in charge of inter-Korean affairs, said it would send its own proposal later for the date and other details on family reunions.

In early January, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye had called for a family reunion event to be held around the time of the Lunar New Year. But the North rejected the offer, citing planned South-US military exercises as a major barrier.

Millions of Koreans were left separated by the Korean War, which sealed the peninsula's division.

Most have died without having the chance to reunite with family members last seen six decades ago. The reunion programme began in earnest in 2000 following a historic inter-Korean summit.

There are normally no opportunities for meetings or any other kind of contact between ordinary Korean families separated by the border.

Sporadic events since then have seen around 17,000 people briefly reunited. The last such meeting took place in late 2010, before the programme was suspended in the wake of the North's shelling of the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong.

About 72,000 South Koreans, nearly half of them aged over 80, are still alive and wait-listed for a chance to join the highly competitive reunion events, which select only up to a few hundred participants each time.

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