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North Korea agrees to resumption of family reunions

North Korea has agreed to a proposal from the South to hold a reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 war between the two countries. The move is seen as a sign that Pyongyang is keen to ease tensions with Seoul.

North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) announced in a statement published by state media that it had agreed to hold the reunion during the Chuseok harvest festival, which falls on September 19.

"Now is the time for the North and the South to make joint efforts for the improvement of the North-South ties and peace and common prosperity on the Korean peninsula," the statement said.

The announcement follows an appeal from South Korean President Park Guen-Hye last Thursday, in which she called on Pyongyang to "open its heart" and agree to a resumption of the family reunions, which it suspended three years ago.

North Korean state media reported that the reunions would be held at a resort on Mount Kumgang, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) north of the border that divides the two Koreas. Officials from the two governments are to hold talks on Friday to work out the details.

About 73,000 South Koreans have requested reunions with family members from the North, according to a government spokesman quoted by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

The CPRK statement also included a call for the resumption of tours bringing South Koreans to Mount Kumgang. The North proposed holding talks on this issue on Wednesday. Seoul stopped those tours after a North Korean soldier shot dead a South Korean woman after she walked into a restricted area while visiting the resort in 2008.

"The resumption of the tours to Mount Kumgang following the normalization of the Kaesong Industrial Zone will bring bigger joy to all the Koreans," the statement read, referring to an agreement last week to reopen Kaesong.

The industrial region had been closed in April amid heightened tensions linked to North Korea's third nuclear test, carried out in February.

pfd/tj (AFP, AP, dpa)