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North and South Korea to hold family reunions

North and South Korea have agreed to hold reunions next month of families separated by the Korean War in the early 1950s.

The deal is a small but important mark of progress for rivals who only last month were threatening each other with war.

One hundred mostly elderly people from each country will be reunited with their relatives on October 20-26 at the Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea, according to Seoul's unification ministry and North Korean state media.

The decision came after overnight talks among the Koreas' Red Cross officials at the border village of Panmunjom.

The Koreas initially agreed to push for the reunions after striking a deal last month that eased a stand-off after a mine explosion blamed on Pyongyang maimed two South Korean soldiers.

The highly emotional reunions have not happened since early last year. But even Tuesday's announcement does not guarantee success, as the rivals have a long history of failing to follow through on reconciliation efforts.

Planned reunions in 2013 were scrapped at the last minute because of North Korean anger in part over its claims the South was trying to overthrow Pyongyang's government.

Most applicants are in their seventies or older and desperate to see their loved ones before they die. Many Koreans do not even know whether relatives on the other side of the border are still alive, because their governments mostly ban the exchange of letters, phone calls or emails.

Some foreign analysts also remain sceptical about inter-Korean ties because of speculation that North Korea will fire what it calls a satellite to celebrate the 70th birthday on October 10 of its ruling party.

Similar past launches triggered an international stand-off as South Korea and other neighbouring countries called them disguised tests for long-range missiles. Such a launch would endanger the reunions.

About 22,500 Koreans had participated in brief reunions - 18,800 in person and the others by video - during a period of detente.

None were given a second chance to meet their relatives, according to South Korea's Red Cross.

South Korean officials have long called for holding reunions more regularly and expanding the number of people taking part.

North Korea is seen as worrying that doing so could open the country to influence from more affluent South Korea and threaten the ruling party's grip on power.

The two Koreas remain divided along the world's most heavily fortified border since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.


From Belfast Telegraph