The South Korean Red Cross on Saturday picked 500 candidates to reunite with their families in the North on Sept. 25-30 on Mount Geumgangsan, as part of preparations for the first of such gatherings in nearly three years.
With priority given to elderly applicants and immediate family members such as parents and children of those living north of the border, the candidates were selected at random by a computer.
The 500 candidates will be narrowed down to around 250 following necessary procedures including health checkups this week. Then, Seoul is to request on Thursday that Pyongyang check whether their family members are still alive.
On Sept. 16, the two Koreas will exchange the final list of 100 people from each side as they agreed during their working-level meeting last Friday, when they also decided to arrange video-linked reunions for another 40 families from each side from Oct. 22-23.
“It usually takes about 50 days to prepare for reunions, but it is only a month away. (Due to the tight schedule), we convened the selection committee this weekend,” Ko Kyung-suk, who leads the South’s Red Cross, told media.
As of last Friday, there were more than 72,800 survivors who previously applied for the family reunions.
The applicants who failed to get the chance to meet their loved ones expressed sadness. Among them was Hyeon Chun-guk, a former North Korean draftee who was taken to the South as a prisoner of war in 1950.
“Well, we will meet again someday,” Hyeon, 81, told Yonhap News Agency.
As the South was speeding up the procedures for the reunions, attention was drawn to how the North would select its own candidates for the meetings.
While the South chose the candidates through a draw system, the North is said to be picking its candidates based on their political orientation and family backgrounds.
Until the early 2000s, many appeared reluctant to meet their relatives in the South as they could face some discrimination in the repressive state due to their ties to the capitalist neighbor. But nowadays, many are said to be willing to meet their families who might give them monetary gifts.
Meanwhile, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said that Seoul is not yet considering an inter-Korean summit, stressing conditions should be forged to yield any meaningful outcome through the summit.
“We are not thinking about a summit between the leaders of the two Koreas to resolve issues from a broader perspective,” Ryoo said in an interview with KBS.
“(We don’t believe) the two Koreas can entangle a whole lot of bilateral issues all at once through the summit. But (I believe) the time will come.”
The minister also stressed that there should be “responsible measures” on the part of the North for the so-called May 24 measures to be lifted. Following the North’s sinking of the corvette Cheonan, Seoul imposed the measures that cut all government exchanges with the North.
“The public sentiment here would not allow Seoul to incrementally loosen those measures when no action has been taken by the North,” he said.
As for the progress on the work to resume the Gaeseong industrial complex, the minister indicated that some South Korean workers might start staying there again as early as this week as the work picks up speed.
As for Pyongyang’s request to hold talks over the resumption of the long-stalled tours to Mount Geumgangsan later this month or early next month, Seoul is expected to respond this week.
The South may suggest holding a working-level meeting before Sept. 25, which is when the family reunions are scheduled to begin.
Last week, Pyongyang requested to hold the meeting as soon as possible after Seoul proposed holding it on Sept. 25.
The Mount Geumgangsan tours have been suspended since a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier there when she allegedly trespassed into a restricted area in July 2008.
The South has so far taken a cautious stance, maintaining that tours will not resume until the North crafts measures to ensure the safety of tourists and prevent a recurrence of the incident.