June 28, 2005

Reunions to go high tech for Koreans split by war

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - Communications experts from South andNorth Korea will meet on Wednesday to begin work on linking theworld's most wired country with one of the least so thatfamilies torn apart by war can reunite on video.

A video connection will be used to reunite some of thehundreds of thousands of families separated by the 1950-1953Korean War, South Korean officials said on Tuesday.

The system will add a new twist to emotionally wrought, andbrief face-face reunions of nearly 10,000 Koreans that havetaken place over the last five years.

When complete, the new communications network will allowKoreans seeking family members on the other side of the heavilymilitarized border to see and speak to each other via aTV-monitor connection.

The precise format of the network, whether it will beclosed circuit television, satellite or the Internet, has notbeen determined and will be the subject of forthcomingdiscussions, South Korean government and Red Cross officialssaid.

The Red Cross is the main channel of contact forhumanitarian exchange between South and North Korea.

The family reunions were sparked by an unprecedented andunrepeated summit meeting between the leaders of North andSouth Korea on June 15, 2000, where the two pledgedreconciliation.

South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young proposedthe long-distance format when he met North Korean leader KimJong-il on June 17. Kim accepted the proposal as "an excitingidea" and suggested Aug. 15 for the launch.

Aug. 15 is Liberation Day, which marks the end of Japanesecolonial rule over the Korean peninsula and is celebrated byboth North and South.

The South Korean chapter of Red Cross said the meeting bytechnical experts on Wednesday will be in the North Korean townof Kaesong just north of the border.

There have been ten rounds of reunions in Seoul, Pyongyangand the Mount Kumgang resort in the North since 2000, but suchevents -- where separated family members spend three or fourdays together -- have stalled since August last year due tostrained bilateral ties.