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South Korea proposes regular family reunions with North

A visitor (L) looks towards the north through a pair of binoculars near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, 55 km (34
A visitor (L) looks towards the north through a pair of binoculars near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, 55 km (34

By Narae Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Park Geun-hye made a formal proposal to North Korea on Saturday to hold family reunions regularly, uniting families separated since the 1950-53 Korean war, a sign Seoul is seeking to improve relations with the North.

The reunions used to be held roughly annually, but until this February had not taken place since 2010 when tensions between the two Koreas spiraled after the South said the North sank one of its naval vessels.

The latest family reunion was held on February 20-25 at the Mount Kumgang resort just north of the border and a total of 813 family members met in tears and joy.

"I propose to North Korea to make family reunions regular in order to ease the deep sorrow of the separated families as soon as possible. North Korea too has separated families and I believe it also has to relieve their pain and agony," said Park in a speech marking the March First Independence Movement Day.

"There is not much time left for these elderly Koreans. The event in which separated families reunite should not be a special occasion any more, said Park.

"One people and one reunified Korean peninsula is the completion of the March First spirit and will contribute to the peace of North East Asia and the world."

This year commemorates the 95th year of the declaration of the nation's independence from Japanese colonization on March 1, 1919.

There have been 19 family reunions since the first in 1985,

during a previous thaw in relations between Seoul and Pyongyang, but the events have never been regular and have ebbed and flowed with the state of Korean relations.

Last Thursday, days after the six-day family reunion came to a close and annual U.S. and South Korean joint military exercises began, North Korea fired four short-range missiles over the sea off its eastern coast.

The North has denounced the joint military exercises as a preparation for war while Seoul and Washington have said the annual drills are defensive in nature.

(Editing by Michael Perry)

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