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August 29, 2009

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South, North Koreas agree to resume family reunions

SOUTH and North Koreas reached a deal yesterday to resume from September reunions of families torn apart by the 1950-53 Korean War, as the isolated North reaches out to its foes after being hit by United Nations sanctions.

In another gesture that could defrost frigid ties, North Korea will today release four South Korean fishermen it has held after their boat drifted into the North's waters several weeks ago, a Unification Ministry official said. The North contacted officials in the South to say it would release the fishermen and their boat at sea.

Last week, North Korea sent envoys to the United States, its long-time adversary, to discuss resuming non-governmental food aid to the impoverished communist state that battles chronic shortages, the South's Yonhap news agency reported.

The Koreas agreed to resume the reunions from September 26 to October 1 for about 100 families from both sides. They will be held at the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea, which is run by an affiliate of the South Korea's Hyundai Group, the South's Unification Ministry said.

"North and South Korea will continue to discuss humanitarian issues, including separated families, under the ideal of developing inter-Korean relations," it said.

The highly emotional meetings of families who left siblings, parents and relatives on the other side of the divided peninsula when the Korean War ended with a ceasefire began about nine years ago.

North Korea also released two US journalists it had held since March when former US President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang in August and met leader Kim Jong-il. South Korean media reports this week said during the Clinton trip the North had requested that the US envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, visit Pyongyang in September.


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