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North Korea and South Korea agree to first family reunions in over three years

North and South Korea have reached an agreement that will allow war-divided families to hold a brief reunion this month. The deal was struck despite calls from Pyongyang for Seoul to cancel upcoming military drills.

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Koreas agree to family meetings

South Korea's Unification Ministry

confirmed on Wednesday that the two countries would bring together families divided by the 1950-53 war for a brief visit. The last such reunion was allowed over three years ago.

Delegates from the Red Cross, South and North Korea had struck the deal during a meeting in the demilitarized zone, the Unification Ministry said. Reunions were to take place between February 20-25, it added without providing further details.

The reunion date coincides with annual military drills conducted by Seoul in partnership with the United States. Although North Korea has already called on South Korea to scrap the drills, which it described as preparation for an invasion, the government in Seoul on Wednesday said it would stand its ground.

"The drills have been conducted annually and they simply cannot be an issue for us as far as the reunions are concerned," a government official in Seoul told the news agency Reuters, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Relations between the two nations have been strained over the past year, sparked in February of last year by North Korea's third nuclear test.

Subsequent annual joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States - following closely after sanctions from the United Nations against the North - angered North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. In response, he issued a series of nuclear threats against the allies and closed of the

Kaesong industrial zone

, shared by both countries. The joint industrial complex was not reopened until September.

kms/ipj (AP, Reuters)

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