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(3rd LD) Koreas agree to hold family reunions in late Oct.

All Headlines 15:56 September 08, 2015

(ATTN: CLARIFIES para 4; UPDATES with more info throughout; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Sept. 8 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea agreed Tuesday to hold reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War in late October as the two sides seek to mend ties following their recent landmark deal on easing military tensions.

After marathon talks, the two Koreas agreed to hold the reunions for 100 separated families each from both sides on Oct. 20-26 at a facility at Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort on the North's east coast, according to the Ministry of Unification.

The decision follows the Red Cross working-level talks which kicked off Monday as Seoul and Pyongyang reached a historic agreement on Aug. 25 to resume the family reunions on the occasion of Korea's fall harvest holiday, Chuseok, slated for late this month.

"On the shared perception that South and North Korea need to fundamentally resolve the humanitarian issue, the two sides agreed to hold Red Cross high-level talks at an early date to discuss related issues such as the continuation of reunion events," Lee Duk-haeng, Seoul's chief delegate, said at a press briefing.

The upcoming event, the first reunions since February 2014, is the outcome of the inter-Korean deal which was clinched following heightened tensions over the North's land mine blasts near the inter-Korean border in early August.

There are more than 66,000 South Korean family members separated by the Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving South and North Korea technically at war.

The issue of the separated families is one of the most pressing humanitarian matters as most of the surviving family members are in their 70s and 80s. About half of the estimated 129,700 applicants for the family reunions have died.

Since the first historic inter-Korean summit in 2000, the two Koreas have held 19 rounds of face-to-face family reunion events. Seven rounds of video-based reunions also have been held.

Only some 18,800 family members from both sides have been allowed to have face-to-face reunions so far.

The main agenda for the talks mainly focused on the details of the upcoming reunions, but the South sought to discuss other related issues such as holding the family reunions on a regular basis and confirmation of the fate of all surviving separated families on both sides.

President Park Geun-hye said in August that South Korea will send North Korea a list of about 66,000 separated family members to be considered for possible reunions.

The ministry said that the two Koreas agreed to exchange a final list of more than 200 separated families hoping to confirm the fate of their family members on the other side of the border by Oct. 8.

A list of 250 South Koreans, including the family members of 50 prisoners of war held in the North, will be given to North Korea.

The agreement on the family reunions is raising hopes for better ties between Seoul and Pyongyang, but there are still dampeners, such as the possibility of a long-range missile launch by North Korea next month, experts said.

Despite the easing military tension on the Korean Peninsula, there is a possibility that North Korea could make an additional provocation ahead of Oct. 10, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party.

North Korea is under heavy sanctions by the United Nations Security Council for its nuclear tests and multiple missile launches.

There is still uncertainty over the feasibility of the upcoming reunions as the North has a track record of unilaterally delaying scheduled reunion events, including in September 2013.

Lee said the North has not laid out preconditions for holding the family reunions such as aid for recovery efforts to combat floods or the North's call for resumption of an inter-Korean tour project at Mount Kumgang, which has been suspended since 2008.

"The North did not make any comments related to the flood or other demands in linkage to the family reunion issue," he added.

Previously, the North asked the South to provide humanitarian support such as rice and fertilizer through the Red Cross.

North Korea has also urged the South to resume the long-suspended joint tour program, in connection with the issue of the family reunions.

Seoul suspended the joint tourism tour program, a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation, in 2008 following the fatal shooting of a South Korean female tourist by a North Korean solider at the resort.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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