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August 27, 2009

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Koreas disagree on timing of family reunions

NORTH and South Korea disagreed yesterday on when families divided by the Korean War will be allowed to meet, at the first family reunion talks between the two sides in nearly two years.

Family reunions had been held annually since a landmark inter-Korean summit in 2000, but were suspended in 2008 when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office with a hardline policy toward North Korea.

Although tensions have cooled and reunion talks have resumed, the two sides were at odds over the timing.

Seoul wanted the first stage of the reunions to be held in late September followed by a second stage in early October, while the North demanded that both stages be held in early October, close to the Chuseok autumn harvest holiday, according to South Korean media pool reports.

Chuseok, which falls on October 3, is a big holiday for both Koreas, equivalent to American Thanksgiving.

Red Cross officials from both sides attended the talks at the Diamond Mountain resort in the North.

The two Koreas last held Red Cross-brokered reunion talks in November 2007. The latest meeting is scheduled to last three days. The two sides are expected to issue an agreement tomorrow.

Millions of families were separated following the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945 and the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the two countries technically at war.

More than 16,000 Koreans have met relatives in temporary reunions held under South Korea's two previous liberal presidents. There are no mail, telephone or e-mail exchanges between ordinary citizens across the Korean border.

North Korea's chief Red Cross delegate Choe Song Ik expressed hope that this "good opportunity will help develop North-South relations" and their humanitarian projects. His South Korean counterpart Kim Young-chol also said he has "expectations for big accomplishments."

North Korea's recent attempts to reach out to South Korea and the US follow a series of confrontations earlier this year, including its second nuclear test in May.

The North also agreed to lift restrictions on border crossings with the South and pledged to resume suspended inter-Korean projects.


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