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Koreas Agree to New Family Reunions, But Food Aid to be Delayed


North and South Korea have agreed to resume North-South family reunions, and have scheduled meetings aimed at restarting North-South projects that were put on hold by the North's missile and nuclear tests. But South Korea says emergency shipments of food and fertilizer to the North will not resume until Pyongyang fulfills the nuclear promises it made on February 13. VOA's Kurt Achin has the details from Seoul.

At six-party negotiations on its nuclear weapons programs last month, Pyongyang promised South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the United States it would disable its main nuclear reactor by mid-April. This is designed as a preliminary step toward full abandonment of the North's nuclear weapons programs.

Friday, as the Inter-Korean talks concluded in the North Korean capital, the two sides issued a statement promising "joint efforts to smoothly implement" the February agreement.

The joint statement includes no specific commitment by the South to resume the food and fertilizer shipments badly needed by the impoverished North. That issue was postponed until an economic cooperation meeting, which the two Koreas have scheduled to begin April 18, several days after the deadline for shutting down the reactor.

However, speaking to reporters after his return to Seoul Friday evening, South Korean Unification Minister Mr. Lee Jae-joung said he had given informal assurances that the food aid would begin again soon.

Lee says the two sides agreed in princiiple that South Korea would soon ship 300,000 tons of fertilizer and 400,000 tons of food to the North.

The two Koreas did agree to resume reunions for families still separated by the 1950s Korean War. One round of reunions via video is scheduled for later this month, and North Korea says it will host face-to-face reunions in May. The two sides also committed to finish constructing a permanent reunion facility as soon as possible.

North Korea interrupted the reunions, and cut off most inter-Korean contact, seven months ago. That is when, in response to ballistic missile tests by Pyongyang, Seoul suspended emergency food shipments to the North. North Korea went on to conduct a nuclear weapons test in October.

Friday's joint statement includes a list of dates for the two countries to discuss other outstanding issues, such as a potential test-run of railroads linking the North and South. The Koreas also agreed to discuss what the joint statement calls "people whose fate was unknown during or after the Korean War."

South Korea believes more than 400 of its soldiers were captured during the war and have never been released. It also believes a roughly equal number of its citizens were abducted by the North since the war, and are still alive there.

Another round of ministerial talks is scheduled for Seoul on May 29.


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