Koreas to go ahead with reunions

South Korean Unification Ministry via Getty Images - Kim Kyou-Hyun, right, the head of South Korea's delegation, shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart, Won Tong-Yon, before their meeting Feb. 14 in Panmunjom, South Korea.

SEOUL — North and South Korea said Friday that they will go ahead with planned reunions for families separated since the Korean War, an agreement that comes in spite of Pyongyang’s protests over “hostile” South Korea-United States military drills.

Following a high-level meeting at a truce village along the demilitarized border, the North and South issued a rare joint statement in which they committed to the reunions and pledged to “refrain from slandering each other.”

epa04176175 Shane Red Hawk of the Sicangu Lakota band of the Rosebud Sioux (L) and his daughter Tshina Red Hawk (R) wait for tribal leaders with the 'Cowboy and Indian Alliance' to begin a horseback ride in protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline across from the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, USA, 22 April 2014. The alliance of farmers, ranchers, and tribes has dubbed their week-long series of protests 'Reject and Protect.' EPA/JIM LO SCALZO

Shane Red Hawk waits for the start of a Keystone XL pipeline protest ride Tuesday.

Photos of the day

Keystone pipeline protest, New York World’s Fair anniversary, ATLAS humanoid robot and more.

More world coverage

Obama reassures Japan as he begins Asian visit

Obama reassures Japan as he begins Asian visit

Early talks include the countries’ roles in security of the region, then a meeting with royalty.

Obama arrives in Japan to start Asia tour

The president will reassert to the country’s leaders that he can deliver on security and economic pledges.

Deadly protests follow man’s killing in Rio de Janeiro

Deadly protests follow man’s killing in Rio de Janeiro

Residents accuse police in death of 26-year-old dancer in slum near famous Copacabana beach area.

Though the agreement had little additional substance, it marks a step toward civility following a particularly testy year of nuclear threats. It also suggests a softening of the North’s stance. Only two days earlier, North Korea had demanded that South Korea delay the drills, which are scheduled to begin Feb. 24, coinciding with the Feb. 20-25 reunions.

South Korean government officials describe the reunions, which haven’t been held since October 2010, as an urgent humanitarian program, pairing up long-lost relatives who haven’t seen one another in six decades. Most of those involved in the reunions are in their 70s and 80s. Those in the South have almost no means to communicate with those north of the border, as they are barred from making phone calls or sending mail.

Though Seoul and Pyongyang set the reunion dates earlier this month, elderly family members in the South were worried that the event would fall through. A North Korean military body, the National Defense Commission, had said that dialogue and war exercises “cannot go hand-in-hand.”

The U.S.-South Korean military drills are an annual event, but the North denounces them as a precursor to invasion. Relations between the two Koreas often dive this time of year.

Tensions in 2013 were particularly sharp, as the North began work to restart a small nuclear reactor and temporarily pulled its workers from an industrial park operated jointly with the South.

 
Read what others are saying