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Koreas differ on fate of split families’ reunions

SEOUL, South Korea — North and South Korea agreed Friday to hold reunions of families separated by their war, but conflicting statements from the rivals about the details underscored the difficulty of repairing relations on the peninsula.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that the reunions — popular on both sides of the border — would be held at the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain resort between Oct. 21 to 27.

South Korea was more cautious in its statement, saying that the two sides "neared agreement" to hold the reunions on those dates but failed to decide on their venue and scale, according to the South’s Red Cross.

While disputes over the details have never derailed such reunions in the past, it was unclear whether the two sides would overcome their disagreements. They agreed to meet again on September 24.

South Korea wants the meetings held in a reunion center at the resort, from which the North has blocked the South since Seoul halted tours there. The tours — one of the few legitimate sources of hard currency for the North’s impoverished regime — were stopped in July 2008 after a South Korean tourist was fatally shot after allegedly entering a restricted military area next to the resort.

"The North Korean delegates wouldn’t comment on the viability of the reunion center as a venue, saying that unfreezing the Diamond Mountain resort for the South’s access is out of their jurisdiction, requiring internal discussions with the relevant powers," South Korean chief delegate Kim Eyi-do told reporters Friday after returning from the talks at Kaesong, across the border in North Korea.

The North Korean report on the talks simply said they would be held at the resort, without specifying where.

The reunions, last held in late 2009, have long been one of the few areas in which the two sides consistently cooperate.

Millions of families were separated by the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945 and the Korean War, which ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the two countries technically at war. Ordinary citizens cannot send mail, make calls or send e-mails across the Korean border.

The reunions would be a promising sign of efforts to repair relations in the wake of the March sinking of a South Korean warship. An international investigation blamed Pyongyang for the incident that killed 46 sailors; North Korea denies involvement.

Despite high tensions, there have been a series of conciliatory gestures from both Koreas in recent weeks.

North Korea recently freed a South Korean fishing boat seized a month ago in its waters.

On Friday, South Korean civic groups sent 203 tons of rice to North Korea, in addition to the 530 tons of flour sent a day earlier, to help ease food shortages following devastating flooding and damage from a typhoon.

The South Korean Red Cross also announced plans to even more rice, cement, medicine and other items to help the North recover from flooding in its northwest.


Associated Press writer Seulki Kim in Dorasan Station at the border and Sangwon Yoon in Seoul contributed to this report.

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