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Latest update : North Korea and South Korea plan to hold family reunions next month

North Korea and South Korea plan to hold family reunions next month.

North Korean Kim Tae Un, right, weeps as she meets with her South Korean sister Kim Sa-bun, centre, during the last round of family reunion meetings, in North Korea on Feb. 23, 2014. (Lee Ji-eun/The Associated Press)

North and South Korea agreed Tuesday to hold reunions next month of families
separated by the Korean War in the early 1950s, a small but important bit of
progress for rivals that just last month were threatening each other with war.

One hundred mostly elderly people from each country will be reunited with
their relatives Oct. 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 that began Monday. The Koreas initially
agreed to push for the reunions after striking a deal last month that eased a
standoff that had flared 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 doesn't guarantee success. 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 claim that the South was trying to overthrow
Pyongyang's government.

Most applicants are in their 70s or older and desperate to see their loved
ones before they die. Many Koreans don't 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 skeptical about inter-Korean ties because
of speculation that North Korea will fire what it calls a satellite to celebrate
the 70th birthday on Oct. 10 of its ruling party. Similar past launches
triggered an international standoff 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.

During the talks, South Korea reiterated its demands that both countries
regularize reunions, and allow separated family members to check whether their
loved ones are still alive and exchange letters. North Korea wanted to focus on
next month's reunion, chief South Korean negotiator Lee Duk-haeng told reporters
in a televised briefing.

Lee said the countries agreed to try to resolve the issue of separated
families and hold Red Cross talks again soon.

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.
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