(ATTN: ADDS comments by chief delegates in 5-8 paras, photos)
MOUNT KUMGANG, North Korea, June 22 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- The two Koreas agreed Friday to hold reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War from Aug. 20-26 in the latest reconciliatory move between the two countries.
The reunions will be held at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North's scenic east coast, involving 100 families from each side.
The agreement was made during an inter-Korean Red Cross meeting held at a hotel on Mount Kumgang to arrange the family reunion event and discuss other humanitarian issues as agreed upon by their leaders during their historic summit in April.
Park Kyung-seo, head of the Korean Red Cross, led South Korea's four-member delegation. The North's three-member delegation was headed by Pak Yong-il, vice chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country.
"We agreed to cooperate in tackling the root problem related to the separated family issue based on humanitarian principles," Park told reporters after wrapping up their almost 10-hour-long meeting.
Park added that efforts will be made in confirming whether separated families remain alive and allowing families from both sides to visit their relatives' graves and visit hometowns.
North Korea's chief delegate said that the two made a very "precious" agreement but emphasized that it is just the "first step" in what will be a long process.
"We made a very precious agreement today. Now is just the beginning. To make this beginning further stimulated, the North and the South should work together," he said.
They will exchange the final lists of people who will join the reunions on Aug. 4, with the South to send its advance team to the venue five days prior to the event to make necessary preparations, according to their joint statement.
The upcoming reunion event marks the first of its kind since October 2015. The two Koreas have held 20 rounds of face-to-face family reunions since the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000.
It is the latest in a series of reconciliatory steps that the two Koreans have taken in recent months amid a thaw in their relations following the summit talks between their leaders in April and May.
South Korea has pushed the resumption of family reunions as a priority for inter-Korean ties. The issue has emerged as one of the most urgent humanitarian challenges confronting the two Koreas as members of such separate families are in their 70s and older.
According to data, the registered number of South Koreans seeking to meet their loved ones in the North totaled 132,124 as of the end of May, of which only about 57,000 remain alive. Some 86 percent of them are in their 70s and older.
During Friday's meeting, the two sides were also expected to discuss other humanitarian issues regarding the fates of North Korean defectors in the South and South Korean detainees in the North. Neither issues were mentioned in the joint statement.
North Korea has demanded a group of North Korean female restaurant workers who defected to the South from China in 2016 be repatriated home, saying that they were coerced to come to the South.
South Korea has claimed that they all defected to the South voluntarily, but the North has argued that they came here against their will. Their return to the North had been a major precondition for discussing holding a reunion of separated families.
Nor did they mention in the statement the issue of returning six South Koreans detained in the North. Earlier, South Korea's chief delegate Park said that such a sensitive topic could derail efforts to make headway on other broader objectives.
The two Koreas agreed to hold working-level Red Cross talks going forward to further discuss the family reunions and other humanitarian issues.
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