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Fifty years after cease-fire agreement: Korean families still separated

25-07-2003 News Release 03/55

Geneva (ICRC) – To mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of the cease-fire agreement, the Vice President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) received representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea in Geneva yesterday and expressed his deep concern for the plight of the families still separated as a result of the Korean war.

Under the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, belligerents must ensure the protection of the civilian population and make every effort to ensure that the members of families dispersed by a conflict are reunited as soon as possible. Yet today it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people in North and South Korea are still separated from their relatives.

Over the past decades, the ICRC has repeatedly reminded the authorities concerned of their obligations towards these families and offered them its services. Until recently, however, only a few Red Cross messages have trickled across the border.

Both in Seoul and in Pyongyang the seriousness of the problem is acknowledged. The situation of elderly people, in particular, is of urgent concern. The ICRC welcomes the work accomplished to date by the Red Cross Societies in North and South Korea, which meet on a frequent basis to update the list of the people concerned. As a result of these efforts, and within the framework of an agreement reached between the two governments, over 6,000 people have met with their relatives since the summer of 2000 in a series of seven collective family visits, the first of which were held simultaneously in Pyongyang and Seoul and the more recent ones at Mount Kumgang. Once the visits are over, however, the families are separated again and unable to keep in touch.

The ICRC takes this opportunity to stress the tragic consequences of this ongoing situation. It calls upon the North and South Korean authorities to facilitate the work of the National Societies of their countries with a view to substantially increasing the frequency of these family visits. It further insists on the need for me asures to be taken ensuring that all those who benefit from family-visit programmes may keep in touch with their relatives after the visits have taken place.

 Further information:  

 Eros Bosisio, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41-22-730 21 01  

 Jean-Marc Bornet, ICRC Bangkok, ++662 251 52 45