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Report: S. Korea offers aid, talks for family reunions with N. Korea

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • South Korea offers tons of rice and cement to flood-stricken North Korea
  • A proposed reunion of separated families could take place near the end of September
  • Millions of families were separated since the Korean War, which ended in 1953

(CNN) -- South Korea's Red Cross says it will provide about 10 billion won ($8.6 million) in aid to North Korea in light of recent flooding, state media said Monday.

The aid includes 5,000 tons of rice and 10,000 tons of cement, according to the Yonhap news agency, citing South Korean Red Cross chief Yoo Chong-ha. Yonhap said North Korea's Red Cross had requested rice, cement and heavy equipment such as excavators earlier this month.

The South Korean Red Cross is also proposing talks with North Korea this week to discuss reuniting family members separated by the Korean War more than 50 years ago, Yonhap said.

The gesture follows a statement by North Korea last week proposing the two countries work to arrange a reunion of separated families, state media said.

According to Korean Central News Agency of North Korea, Jang Jae On, chairman of North Korea's Central Committee of the Red Cross Society, sent a notice to the South Korean Red Cross suggesting the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea as a site for the reunion.

The proposed reunion would take place around the fall harvest holiday of Chuseok, which falls on September 22 this year, Yonhap said.

Millions of families were separated by the Korean War, which ended in 1953 with a cease-fire and no formal peace treaty.

About 10,000 people applied to take part in a similar reunion last year, but fewer than 200 families were allowed to participate.

Family members wept as they saw one another for the first time in decades last September. No mail, telephone or e-mail exchanges existed between ordinary citizens across the Korean border.

Yoon Ki-Dal, 88, of South Korea thought such a moment would never come. After leaving his son and daughters when they were babies during the Korean War, he was able to hold the hands of his North Korean children last September.

"Father, we thought you were dead," his daughter, who was in her 60s, told him, her face trembling.

The families were allowed to spend a few days together last year before the South Koreans had to return home.

About 80,000 South Koreans are waiting for a chance to reunite with their families left in North Korea after the war, and as many as 4,000 die each year, Yoo said, according to Yonhap.

Yoo said the strained relations between the two Koreas have affected humanitarian projects between the sides and expressed hope that such cooperation will resume, Yonhap said.

Journalist Sohn Jie-Ae contributed to this report.