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South Korean Red Cross Chief Proposes Permanent Reunion Venues - 2002-09-07

An agreement in principle has been reached by North and South Korean Red Cross officials on creating a permanent reunion place for separated families. The head of South Korea's Red Cross has proposed two permanent locations. The proposal came on the second day of talks with his North Korean counterpart.

The South Korean Red Cross chief, Suh Young-hoon, says North and South Korea should build two meeting places by the end of the year in order to host monthly reunions of separated families.

The North has proposed one reunion venue to be located at the Diamond Mountain resort where the current Red Cross talks are taking place. South Korea is expected to agree to the North's proposal, but Mr. Suh hopes to add a second meeting place at Dorasan railway station, just south of the border separating the two Koreas. This would be more convenient for family members living in the South, many of whom are now elderly and frail.

At the talks, Mr. Suh has also proposed that family members should be allowed to send regular correspondence to each other. Up to now, people from the North and South have been forbidden any contact.

The Red Cross delegates are also expected to discuss setting a date for the fifth round of reunions between separated families. Only a few hundred families have been allowed to visit each other since the historic inter-Korean summit in June 2000 in which the leaders pledged to work toward reunification. But millions of people are still waiting. They were separated when the Korean Peninsula was divided in 1945 and, then, by the Korean War which ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.

In Seoul, meanwhile, officials from South Korea, Japan and the United States wrapped up talks on coordinating policy toward communist North Korea. The talks focused on a series of possible new diplomatic contacts since the North embarked on dramatic, but tentative, reforms to its destitute centralized economy.

Since July, Pyongyang has signaled a new willingness to engage the international community.

Later this month Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will travel to North Korea for an unprecedented summit. Japan and North Korea have never established diplomatic relations.

The United States is also considering resuming dialogue with North Korea on contentious security issues including missile proliferation, nuclear weapons and U.S. forces stationed along the border to protect South Korea.