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Seoul proposes regular family reunions with North

Saturday - 3/1/2014, 8:42am  ET

A protester holding a defaced Japanese rising sun flag shouts slogans during a rally to celebrate the March First Independence Movement Day in front of Japanese Embassy in Seoul, Saturday, March 1, 2014. South Korea on Saturday marked the anniversary of a bloody uprising in 1919 in which Korean demonstrators protested Japan's colonial rule. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

JUNG-YOON CHOI
Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea's president on Saturday proposed the rival Koreas hold reunions of Korean War-divided families on a regular basis, saying time was running out for the elderly separated by hostilities and politics.

South Korea has made similar proposals in the past, but President Park Geun-hye's latest overture came after the two Koreas last month held their first reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War in more than three years.

"There are separated families in North Korea as well. I believe North Korea should also ease the anguish and pain of its people," she said in a speech marking Korea's 1919 uprising against Japan's colonial rule.

North Korea didn't immediately respond to Park's proposal. Analysts say North Korea has been reluctant to increase family reunions due to worries that doing so could open the country to influence from more affluent South Korea and threaten its grip on power.

The latest six-day family reunions were arranged after North Korea began calling for better ties with South Korea in what outside analysts say is an effort to win foreign aid and investment.

North Korea earlier threatened to cancel the reunions in anger over annual military drills between Seoul and Washington that it calls a preparation for invasion. The North let the reunions proceed after high-level talks with South Korea, though the drills went ahead as scheduled.

In an apparent protest of the drills, South Korea said North Korea fired four short-range Scud missiles into the sea on Thursday. Analysts said the launches weren't expected to raise tension as the North routinely tests short-range missiles.

Last week, North Korea also presented to the media a South Korean missionary who it says was arrested last year for allegedly trying to establish underground Christian churches in the country. South Korea urged North Korea to quickly release him.

The Korean Peninsula officially remains at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. Millions of people have since been separated along the world's most heavily fortified border, with the two Koreas banning ordinary citizens from visiting each other and exchanging letters, phone calls and emails.

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Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report.


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