North Korea agrees to talks with South on family reunions

Separated families living in South Korea try to touch the hands of their North Korean relatives inside a bus after a brief reunion in this Feb 25, 2014 file photo.
Separated families living in South Korea try to touch the hands of their North Korean relatives inside a bus after a brief reunion in this Feb 25, 2014 file photo. PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL (REUTERS) - North Korea has agreed to Red Cross talks with South Korea to discuss reunions of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War, a South Korean official said on Saturday, setting up the first meeting under a recent accord aimed at defusing tensions.

The accord reached on Tuesday pulled the rivals back from the brink of an armed conflict.

The two sides agreed to work towards resuming the meetings of families, an emotional issue given the advancing years of surviving family members.

An official from the Unification Ministry said in Seoul that a message had been sent on Saturday in which North Korea's Red Cross accepted the South's proposal to meet on Sept 7 at the Panmunjom truce village that sits on their heavily armed border.

Nearly 130,000 South Koreans looking for family members in the North have registered with the government in Seoul. About 66,000 are still alive, with most aged 70 or more, according to Unification Ministry data.

About 18,800 people have been reunited during three-day events before returning, mostly since 2000.

On Tuesday, the two Koreas agreed to end a military standoff that sparked an exchange of artillery fire after the South began propaganda broadcasts in response to a landmine blast that seriously wounded two of its soldiers.

Seoul and Pyongyang have remained technically in a state of war since Korean war ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.