(4th LD) Koreas agree to hold family reunions as scheduled
SEOUL, Feb. 14 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea agreed Friday to hold reunions of separated families later this month as scheduled, an official said, a deal that could help improve inter-Korean relations after months of tensions.
The rival Koreas also agreed to stop making slanderous remarks against each other to boost mutual confidence, South Korea's chief delegate Kim Kyou-hyun told reporters.
He further said the two Koreas vowed to make efforts to improve their relations and agreed to hold another round of high-level talks at a later date, which has yet to be set.
The deal was reached at the high-level talks -- the second such meeting in three days -- at the border village of Panmunjom that separates the two Koreas.
"It is meaningful that the two Koreas took a first step toward development of inter-Korean relations based on confidence," Kim said. "I expect the two Koreas to continue to build confidence through dialogue in the future."
The two sides had locked horns over the military exercises that partly overlap with a new round of reunions of separated families set to be held at a North Korean mountain resort from Feb. 20 to 25.
During Wednesday's talks -- first high-level talks in seven years, the North demanded that Seoul reschedule the military exercises until after the family reunions end, a request spurned by Seoul.
The dispute over the military exercises had cast doubt on the planned reunions. South Korea plans to send a 15-member advance team to the North on Saturday to prepare for the reunions, said ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do.
The communist country has reacted sensitively to South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises for decades, condemning them as a rehearsal for invasion.
Seoul and Washington say the annual exercises are defensive in nature and have nothing to do with the reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there is no legitimate excuse for linking the military exercises with the reunions.
"The United States does not believe that it is appropriate to link a humanitarian issue such as (family) reunification with any other issue," Kerry said in a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart in Seoul.
Millions of Koreans remain separated since the Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.
Family reunions are a pressing humanitarian issue on the divided peninsula, as most of the separated family members are in their 70s and 80s, and wish to see their long-lost relatives before they die.
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