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North, South Korea Fail to Resolve Issue of Abductees

Three-day talks between North and South Korea ended Thursday with agreements for at least two more video reunions for families separated during the Korean War. But Seoul's Red Cross delegation failed to win a firm agreement from North Korea regarding South Korean prisoners of war and missing civilians believed to be alive in the North.

The Red Cross talks, the first in nearly two years, focused on improving conditions for families separated by the Korean War.

But South Korea reportedly failed to secure any information regarding hundreds of soldiers and civilians it believes North Korea holds captive.

When hostilities in the war ended in 1953, thousands of South Korean soldiers were believed to be held captive in the North.

The few who have managed to escape since have said the South Koreans were used as forced labor.

Seoul claims more than 500 prisoners are still alive in the North. The government also says Pyongyang holds around 480 civilians it kidnapped over the past 50 years.

Park Young-Ho is a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification. He says the issue is an emotional one in South Korea and there is tremendous pressure on the government to push for some sort of resolution.

"That's why the South Korean government has maintained that issue as a top priority among various issues vis a vis North Korea," he said.

But Mr. Park says Seoul is avoiding a direct confrontation with North Korea over the prisoners' fate.

He says the South Korean delegates this week were careful not to use loaded terms like prisoner of war or abductee. The goal, he said, was to secure some sort of family reunion for the missing South Koreans, not to force Pyongyang to admit any wrongdoing.

Nevertheless, the talks apparently stalled after North Korea refused to consider any special reunions.

North Korea denies holding any war prisoners and says it has never abducted South Koreans. Its delegation reportedly refused to discuss cases not directly linked to the Korean War.

In the past, however, North Korea has admitted to abducting several Japanese civilians, to use them to teach spies. Five of those abductees were allowed to return to Japan a few years ago, but Pyongyang says the others are dead.

South Korea says its delegates were able to negotiate agreements on more reunions of families stranded on opposite sides of the border since the war. Most have had no contact with their relatives for more than 50 years.

Delegates announced plans for new video conference calls between North and South Korea to reunite divided families.

Officials also discussed ways to improve mail transfers between the families.