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Two Koreas to hold first family reunion talks in 2 yrs

All Headlines 07:00 August 26, 2009

SEOUL, Aug. 26 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean delegation was to head to North Korea Wednesday for talks to arrange a new round of reunions of separated families after a nearly two-year hiatus, a sign of thawing cross-border relations.

The reunion talks, channeled by Red Cross offices on both sides, had been stopped as Pyongyang rejected inter-Korean dialogue. The North's agreement to the three-day talks was the latest in its series of recent conciliatory gestures toward the South.

"Given the agreement with the Hyundai chairwoman, we don't see any big problems in setting the reunion date," Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said Tuesday.

Lee was referring to a recent agreement North Korean leader Kim Jong-il reached with Hyun Jeong-eun, chief of South Korea's Hyundai Group, to boost joint ventures and resume suspended reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. The accord suggests holding the reunions on the traditional Korean holiday of Chuseok, which falls on Oct. 3 this year.

Seoul's three-member delegation, led by Kim Young-chol, secretary general of the South Korean Red Cross office, will travel to Goseong, South Korea's border town on the east coast, where they will cross the demilitarized zone through an inter-Korean land route there at around 3 p.m., officials said. The talks are to be held at the North's Mount Kumgang resort, a customary venue for the reunions.

Arranged by the Red Cross, the reunions started at the end of 2000 as an outcome of the historic first inter-Korean summit earlier that year. They were last held in October 2007 and did not continue after political relations chilled with the inauguration last year of President Lee Myung-bak, who linked inter-Korean relations to progress in Pyongyang's denuclearization.

The two Koreas have held 16 rounds of face-to-face reunions and seven rounds of video reunions so far, temporarily bringing together tens of thousands of people. About 600,000 South Koreans are believed to have relatives in North Korea. Normally, about 100 South Koreans are selected for each reunion.

Watchers expect that during the talks, North Korea may demand the resumption of the suspended tourism project to Mount Kumgang, a source of cash for the country currently under U.N. sanctions. Seoul suspended the tour in July last year after a North Korean soldier shot and killed a South Korean tourist who strayed into an off-limits military zone.

Seoul has not moved yet to resume the tour.

Philip Goldberg, a U.S. diplomat in charge of enforcing sanctions on North Korea, recently expressed support for the Mount Kumgang tours and other inter-Korean business projects, saying they would not violate the U.N. resolution that punishes the North for its nuclear test.

"My assessment is that at the moment, these are issues outside of that resolution," he said during a visit to Seoul.

In a major fence-mending move, North Korea dispatched a high-level delegation to pay respects to late former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung last week.

North Korean media have since stopped calling South Korean President Lee Myung-bak derogatory names like "traitor."

hkim@yna.co.kr
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