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More Reunions Planned for North, South Korea - 2001-09-18


North and South Korea have agreed to hold more reunions of families separated by the conflict on the Korean Peninsula. But the two sides wrapped up several days of cabinet-level talks with no agreement on terrorism or on North Korea's leader making a promised visit to the South. Both countries say they have put the reconciliation process back on track, six months after talks broke off in anger.

South Korean spokesman Rhee Bong-jo says the family reunions are to resume in mid-October. The reunions are a deeply emotional issue because there are tens of thousands of elderly Koreans who have not seen parents, brothers, sisters or children in decades.

Before and during World War Two, Korea was occupied by Japan. It split into the Soviet-backed North and pro-Western South at the end of that conflict. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, thousands of families lost track of members in the chaos, as 1.2 million people fled south. The Korean War ended in an armed truce - not a peace treaty in 1953. The heavily fortified border has been sealed ever since. Threre is no direct travel, phone or mail service between the two Koreas.

After the first-ever summit of their leaders in June last year, the Korea's held three brief reunions for hundreds of separated family members.

An unfulfilled promise from that summit was a visit to South Korea by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il - seen as a way to help the two sides to move forward on many tough issues.

Tuesday, the two sides did agree to hold another round of cabinet-level talks, October 28, probably in the northern capital, Pyongyang. The agreement for further, routine talks is significant because it means the reconciliation process is moving forward after a six-month freeze. North Korea broke off talks last March, angered by perceived hostility from Washington - South Korea's key ally.

Tuesday's agreement outlines a flurry of talks aimed at advancing a series of stalled joint infrastructure projects, including repairing a rail line between the two countries and building road projects that would help tourism and serve a proposed industrial complex in North Korea. Other talks will focus on access to disputed fishing waters.

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