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North, South Korea agree to family reunions

North and South Korea have agreed to hold reunions September 25-30 for families separated by the 1950-53 War. They will take place the North's Mount Kumgang resort, South Korea's Unification Ministry announced.

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North and South Korea held talks Friday on resuming the reunions for families separated for decades by the 1950-53 war as they seek to build on a recent easing of cross-border tensions. The last reunions had been held in November 2010 (pictured), before being suspended after the North's shelling of a South Korean border island.

"With today's agreement, we set the stage for regular family reunions," said Kim Hyung-Suk, the spokesman for South Korea's Unification Ministry.

A venue dispute nearly derailed the talks between North and South Korean Red Cross officials, but they ultimately took place in the border "truce" village of Panmunjom, where the two countries had also signed the 1953 ceasefire ending hostilities.

'Separated families'

The war and the border it left behind separated millions of Koreans, and most have now died without having had a chance to see again the family members they last saw six decades ago. Last week, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye began pushing to restart the reunions, appealing to the North to "open its heart" and agree to kick-start the program in time for September's Chuseok holiday.

"The issue of separated families is one of the most urgent tasks of the time," said South Korea's top delegate at the talks Friday, Lee Duck Hang. "I will do my best to relieve their pain," he was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.

The program began in 2000 following an historic inter-Korean summit, and sporadic events since then have seen around 17,000 people briefly reunited. About 72,000 South Koreans - nearly half of them aged over 80 - remain on the wait-list to join the highly competitive family reunion events, which only a few hundred Koreans might attend at a time.

At the reunions, Koreans typically meet in the North for two or three days. For those unable to travel, the countries have arranged reunions via video conferencing.

mkg/dr (AFP, dpa, AP)