SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea's president proposed Thursday that the two Koreas hold a reunion next month of families still separated 60 years after the Korean War, another sign of easing tensions after a spring that saw the neighbors threatening war. The proposal came a day after the rivals moved toward reopening a jointly run factory park closed since April.
Family reunions were one of the major inter-Korean cooperation projects between a summit of the two Koreas' leaders in 2000 and the return of tensions in 2010. About 22,000 Koreans were able to meet with loved ones in that time.
"First and foremost, we have to ease the pains of separated families," President Park Geun-hye said in a televised speech.
Park made the proposal on the day the two Koreas mark their 1945 independence from Japanese colonization. A proposal made in July to discuss a resumption of the reunions fizzled.
Many families have been separated since the Korean War, when there were huge movements of refugees between North and South Korea.
Park's comments signal that her administration, which took office in February, is willing to play a bigger role in improving relations between the two Koreas, said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. Attempts to ease tensions through dialogue and humanitarian efforts could improve the North's ties with other countries, and also help revive stalled multilateral talks on its nuclear programs, he said.
Park has vowed to hit back hard against any new North Korean provocations, but has also advocated a trust-building policy.
Her comments, combined with an agreement Wednesday on pushing to restart the jointly run Kaesong industrial park, could signal a further thawing in ties between the rivals. But there's also skepticism in South Korea about the North's intentions. North Korea threatened Seoul and Washington with nuclear war this spring, and analysts say the North often follows provocations and threats with a charm offensive meant to win aid.
In her speech, Park said the agreement to reopen the Kaesong factory park would start a new inter-Korean relationship marked by co-existence.
The negotiators agreed that both countries would actively seek to restart operations at Kaesong, though it was not conclusive and no timetable was given.
The industrial complex in Kaesong, North Korea's third-largest city, was the last symbol of cooperation from the previous era of detente until the North halted operations during a torrent of threats earlier this year that included vows of nuclear strikes on Washington and Seoul.
Park also asked North Korea to jointly build a peace park in the demilitarized zone along the border. The 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce and no peace treaty was signed.