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Page last updated at 08:03 GMT, Tuesday, 25 August 2009 09:03 UK

Koreas to discuss family reunions

Two Korean sisters are reunited for the first time in 2000 after being split during the 1950-53 war - 15 August 2000 file photo
Thousands of families were separated by the 1950-53 war

North and South Korea are to hold talks on reuniting families divided by war in the 1950s, officials in Seoul say.

The programme, organised by the Red Cross, was suspended more than a year ago as inter-Korean relations soured.

The announcement that talks will resume this week is being seen as another sign of a thaw, correspondents say.

It follows North Korean envoys meeting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul ahead of the funeral of former leader Kim Dae-jung.

The three-day talks about reuniting families through the Red Cross are expected to open on Wednesday at the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea.

During the first few years of this decade thousands of Koreans were able to see their relatives face-to-face, in highly emotional but brief meetings.

The reunions were stopped after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in February 2008 amid North Korean anger at his policy of ending unconditional aid handouts.

He has tied a resumption of aid to progress on North Korean nuclear disarmament.

Northern overtures

Some reports say the reunion programme could begin again as early as October.

The return to talks between North and South Korea follows two weeks of increased contact between the two countries.

I would not say that we've seen really any progress toward our oft-stated goal and our clear position that we want to engage with North Korea to discuss the denuclearisation issue in the six-party context
Ian Kelly
US state department

The North sent a senior delegation to Kim Dae-jung's lying-in-state carrying a message expressing hope for a lessening of tension.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for organising the first inter-Korean summit with Northern leader Kim Jong-il as he pursued his "Sunshine Policy" of reconciliation with Pyongyang.

Talks between South Korea's Unification Minister Hyun In-taek and the North Korean envoys were the first high-level meeting between the two sides since February 2008.

The delegation also met President Lee on Sunday but did not attend Mr Kim's funeral.

Pyongyang has also invited US envoy Stephen Bosworth to visit the North next month for talks on its nuclear arms programme, South Korean media say.

Two separate reports, quoting unnamed diplomatic sources in Washington, said Mr Bosworth would be travelling to South Korea, China, Japan and North Korea to try to restart the six-party negotiations, which also include Russia.

North Korea has also told US politician Bill Richardson that it wants to return to international negotiations - but only with the US, not its neighbours.

"We support a dialogue between North Korea and South Korea and we welcome meaningful steps that lead to a reduction of tension on the Korean peninsula," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.

But he added: "I would not say that we've seen really any progress toward our oft-stated goal and our clear position that we want to engage with North Korea to discuss the denuclearisation issue in the six-party context."



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