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Koreas Resume Family Reunions, Emergency Aid Shipments

The long, slow rapprochement between the two Koreas has started again, with the two sides resuming video reunions of separated families. South Korea is also providing emergency humanitarian aid to the North for the first time since Pyongyang tested ballistic missiles and a nuclear weapon last year. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

An elderly South Korean woman calls to her older sister in North Korea, asking, "Do you recognize me?"

The sisters were among more than 800 North and South Koreans viewing each other for the first time since the 1950s Korean War. The reunion was over a video link connecting the two countries.

Thousands of families are separated by the North-South Korean divide. South Korean officials say the video reunions are designed for those deemed to be too old or too weak to make a trip to a reunion center located in the North. A separate series of face-to-face reunions has taken place at the North Korean mountain resort, but only a relatively small number of people have received permission to take part.

The reunions are the first in 13 months. They were put on hold, like most other dealings between the two Koreas, after Pyongyang's test of ballistic missiles last July, and - three months later - a nuclear explosive.

South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung says he hopes to build on the momentum of these reunions. He says he will push for more communication between divided families, if only at first in the form of letters between North and South.

Lee arranged for the resumption of the reunions, and also agreed to resume South Korean aid to the North, at inter-Korean ministerial talks several weeks ago. The first shipment of cement and fertilizer left a South Korean port and a massive shipment of rice and more fertilizer is expected to be sent north next month.

The shipments follow North Korea's promises to South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia that it would take initial steps to dismantle its nuclear-weapons arsenal. In the first phase of that agreement, Pyongyang must disable its main plutonium-producing reactor by mid-April.

Talks aimed at implementing the agreement broke down last week over a separate issue, about $25 million in North Korean funds frozen by U.S. action at a bank in Macau. The United States has lifted its freeze, but technical problems have kept the money from being transferred to a North Korean account in Beijing, and Pyongyang refuses to return to the nuclear talks until the transfer has been completed.

U.S. officials describe the snag as a technical banking issue, rather than a diplomatic hurdle. A senior U.S. Treasury delegation is in Beijing this week to resolve the issue, and diplomats say they expect the problem to be solved within several days.