44 pct of people wanting to meet N.K. relatives dead: report

SEOUL, Sept. 19 (Yonhap) -- More than 40 percent of people who have requested to meet long-lost relatives living in North Korea have died due to old age and ill health, a report released by an opposition lawmaker said Thursday.

A press release by the Democratic Party's Jung Chung-rai said of the 129,000 people who have registered their names in the separated families database system, 56,000, or 43.8 percent, have died. The database is mostly used as reference material to help locate loved ones separated in the 1950-53 Korean War.

"The numbers represent a 30 percentage point increase from the death rate of 15.9 percent reported among registered people in 2003," the findings said. It said that at the present rate more than half of those on the waiting list will be dead in three years.

The lawmaker said that there is a pressing need to arrange regular meetings of separated families and Seoul needs to come up with working plans to make them possible.

He stressed that the 96 South Koreans who can meet their relatives in the upcoming family reunions event scheduled for Sept. 25-30 represent only 0.07 percent of all people registered in the database.

The two Koreas agreed on Aug. 23 to hold the reunions at the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea after President Park Geun-hye formally proposed such a meeting during her Liberation Day address eight days earlier. The two sides have since exchanged the names of people who want to meet relatives and are working out details such as lodgings for families. A decision on accommodations should be reached within the week after an advanced party of 20-30 South Korean Red Cross officials reach Mount Kumgang resort on Friday to make last minute preparations for the reunions event.

If the meeting takes place, it will be the first in three years. Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to hold a televised reunion event in October and another face-to-face gathering in November. The reunions take place amid a recent thaw in tensions on the Korean Peninsula that had spiked after the North detonated its third nuclear device in February, despite strong warnings from the international community.

The two Koreas held the first family reunion event in 1985, and after a 15-year halt, arranged 18 meetings from 2000 through 2010 that allowed 3,829 families to meet in person and 557 via video link.

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