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(LEAD) S. Korea to propose regular family reunions to N. Korea: official
SEOUL, Sept. 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea plans to propose regular reunions for families living separately on the divided Korean Peninsula in response to the North's proposal to resume the practice, government officials said Sunday.

   "We have decided to make an offer to hold regular family reunions to the North," said a high-ranking government official.

   He said that Seoul will bring up the issue at a working-level Red Cross meeting, which the North had proposed "at an earliest possible date" to discuss the resumption.

   "A solution for the family reunions is nowhere in sight, if we hold the meeting irregularly," he said, citing that among 120,000 separated family members, 40,000 have already passed away.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Saturday that the country's Red Cross had sent a message to the South on Friday calling for a fresh round of family reunions to be held at the resort on Mount Kumgang on the east coast around Chuseok, the Korean fall harvest holiday, which falls on Sept. 22 this year.

   No meetings are likely to take place before the Chuseok holiday, however, as such events usually take at least a month to prepare, according to the unification ministry official.

   The offer comes amid hopes for a possible rapprochement in inter-Korean ties.

   The South's Red Cross last week proposed to its North Korean counterpart that it would send 10 billion won (US$8.6 million) in flood aid that excludes rice. In response, the North's Red Cross requested that the staple be sent along with cement and excavators.

   "South Korea's Red Cross will send a message later this week to its North Korean counterpart to discuss the family reunion and Pyongyang's recent request to send rice and construction equipment in flood aid," said the high-ranking official.

   "Relief supplies, including food, daily necessities and medicines, which the Red Cross originally planned to provide to the North, and rice and cement will be also sent," said the official. "But heavy equipment will not be included.

   "Flood aid and family reunions are separate issues. We are going to send 10 billion won in flood aid," he said. "If the North raises no objection, our government will begin the process to provide relief supplies."

   Inter-Korean relations have come to a virtual standstill after the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean warship, near their western sea border in March. A Seoul-led multinational investigation team concluded two months later that the North downed the 1,200-ton patrol ship in a torpedo attack.

   The reunions began following the historic first inter-Korean summit in 2000. More than 127,000 people in the South have since signed up for the reunions, though nearly a third of them have died of old age. About one in 800 is selected.

   Around 16,000 people have been reunited through face-to-face reunions so far. Some 600,000 South Koreans are believed to have family in the North.