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Koreas Agree to Hold Family Reunions

  • VOA News

North and South Korea have agreed to resume the reunions of families separated by the 1950s Korean War.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said the deal was reached Wednesday during a meeting at the Panmunjom border village.

It said the reunions will take place from February 20-25 at the Mount Kumgang resort on North Korea's east coast.

Since the program began in 2000, over 18,000 Korean families have been temporarily reunited. The meetings have not been held since 2010.

Both sides agreed last year to resume the reunions, but Pyongyang backed out at the last minute, citing what it said was hostility by Seoul.

Lee Duk-haeng, South Korea's head delegate at the talks, said the North has insisted it is intent on holding the reunions this time.

"Regarding the fact that the agreement last year had not been fulfilled, we have delivered a message of our stance, that it should not happen again, and the North side has agreed on this," said Lee.

Nonetheless, many fear upcoming U.S.-South Korean military drills could provide Pyongyang another opportunity to back out.

North Korea views the annual joint military drills as preparation to invade, and has warned Washington and Seoul to call them off.

The U.S. and South Korea say the drills, set to begin later this month, are defensive, and will go on as planned.

North Korea also has tried to link the family reunion issue to the resumption of South Korean tours to its Mount Kumgang resort. Seoul suspended the visits in 2008 following the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist in the area.

The impoverished North is anxious to open the resort because it is a valuable source of cash, but South Korea insists the Mount Kumgang issue be handled separately from the family reunion debate.

There was no immediate word on whether progress was also made Wednesday on the Mount Kumgang tours.

Tensions regularly flare up between the two Koreas, which remain in a technical state of war, since the 1953 agreement that ended hostilities between them was only a truce.