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2 Koreas agree on reunions for separated families

Written By vibykhmer on Friday, August 28, 2009 | 6:57 AM


A South Korean Lim Jae-shil, 85, raise his hands in joy after being selected as one of 300 candidates who could meet their North Korean relatives in upcoming family reunions, at the headquarters of Korea Red Cross in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug, 28, 2009. North and South Korea agreed Friday to hold a new round of reunions next month for families long separated by the Korean War in the latest sign of easing tensions on the divided peninsula. Among the 300 candidates, 100 will be able to meet their relatives in North Korea.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

By JAE-SOON CHANG, Associated Press Writer

SEOUL, South Korea – North and South Korea agreed Friday to hold a new round of reunions for families long separated by the Korean War — the first in nearly two years — in the latest sign of easing tensions on the divided peninsula.

Red Cross officials from the two sides wrapped up three days of talks at the North's scenic Diamond Mountain resort with an accord to hold six days of temporary reunions involving 200 families from Sept. 26, according to a joint statement.

Millions of families were separated by the Korean War, which ended in 1953 with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. No mail, telephone or e-mail exchanges exist between ordinary citizens across the Korean border.

This week's rare talks and the resulting agreement were the latest signs of improving relations between the rival nations. The agreement said the North and South will continue to discuss separated families and other humanitarian issues.

Pyongyang has reached out in recent weeks to Seoul and Washington following a series of provocations, including nuclear and missile tests, and international sanctions to punish the communist regime for the defiant moves banned under U.N. resolutions.

Earlier this month, the North freed two American journalists and a South Korean worker after more than four months of detention and pledged to restart some joint projects, including the meetings of separated families that have been stalled since the inauguration of a conservative government in Seoul 18 months ago.

The North also sent a delegation to Seoul to mourn the death of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.

South Korean media reported earlier this week that Pyongyang invited Washington's two top envoys on North Korea to visit in what would be their first nuclear talks since President Barack Obama took office.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters Thursday that the U.S. has not received a formal invitation from the North. He also said special envoy Stephen Bosworth plans to travel to Asia soon, but won't go to North Korea.

Four North Korean officials visited the U.S. last week to meet American relief organizations and discuss the resumption of food aid to the impoverished nation, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Friday. But their trip did not include meetings with U.S. government officials, it said, citing unidentified sources in Washington.

Despite the latest conciliatory gestures, the North was still holding four South Korean fishermen whose boat was seized last month after it strayed into northern waters.

After returning to the South, Seoul's chief delegate Kim Young-chol said his North Korean counterpart told him during the talks there will be a "good result" regarding the fishermen, Yonhap reported.

Following their first-ever summit in 2000, the two Koreas regularly held family reunions until late 2007. Then, ties frayed badly after conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office last year with hard-line policies such as linking aid to Pyongyang's disarmament.

That angered the North, prompting it to suspend reconciliation talks and major joint projects.

More than 16,000 Koreans have been united in temporary face-to-face reunions so far, while some 3,740 others saw their long-lost relatives in video reunions.

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Associated Press writers Kwang-tae Kim and Wanjin Park contributed to this report.

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