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Korean Red Cross Chiefs Agree to Permanent Reunion Venue - 2002-09-08

North and South Korea have agreed to set up a permanent meeting place to reunite families separated for more than half a century. The agreement came during discussions in North Korea between the heads of the Red Cross from both countries. The two sides also agreed on a date for a new round of reunions between separated families.

The permanent reunion facility is to be built at the Diamond Mountain resort on the North's east coast, where the current Red Cross talks are taking place. South Korea says it will provide the building materials and North Korea will provide the labor.

The South Korean representative at the negotiations had been pushing for a second reunion center to be set up at the Dorasan Railway station, just to the south of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas.

Local media reports in Seoul say North Korea will consider that proposal. The reports said that work on this second facility could only begin after a severed rail link across the border is reconnected.

This was the first meeting held by the heads of the Red Cross from the Koreas. The officials agreed that a fifth round of family reunions should take place September 13 to September 18 at Diamond Mountain.

Millions of Koreans were separated by the division of the peninsula in 1945 and the civil war that ended in 1953. Since then, only a few hundred families have been reunited at meetings carefully arranged between Seoul and Pyongyang. The pressure is on to increase the number of reunifications as many of the separated family members are now quite elderly.

Steps towards reconciliation suffered a setback earlier this year when North Korea suspended contacts with the South and the rest of the world after being denounced by President Bush as part of "an axis of evil." In the past few months, however, Pyongyang has indicated that it is again willing to broaden its links with the outside world.

The two Koreas held a friendly soccer match in Seoul Saturday. And later this month, Pyongyang will host a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.