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Koreas agree to hold family reunions

SEOUL--The rival Koreas agreed Wednesday to hold their first reunions of Korean War-divided families in more than three years later this month, another small step forward in easing tensions that comes despite North Korea's anger over upcoming U.S.-South Korean military drills.

Many had been skeptical in Seoul that the North would agree to a quick resumption of the dramatic reunions because of the annual military exercises that Seoul and Washington plan later this month. North Korea calls them a rehearsal for invasion, and used last year's drills to partly justify a torrent of threats and provocations that still clouds relations on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea also scrapped an earlier plan for reunions at the last minute in September after accusing South Korea of planning war drills and other hostile acts. It is again calling for the cancellation of the annual drills. Seoul and Washington insist they are purely defensive and have refused to call them off.

On Wednesday, however, in a meeting of Red Cross delegates at a border village, North Korea agreed to hold the reunions Feb. 20-25 at its scenic Diamond Mountain, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry, which is responsible for cross-border affairs. North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency also confirmed the arrangements.

During Wednesday's talks, South Korea expressed regret over the cancellation of the previous reunions, and North Korea agreed there should be no such recurrence, a ministry statement said. Under the agreement, 100 elderly people from each country chosen last September will meet their relatives, the statement said.

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In this photo released by the South Korean Unification Ministry, the head of the South Korean working-level delegation Lee Duk-haeng, center, prepares to cross the border to hold a meeting with North Korea at Tongilgak in the North Korean side of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, on Wednesday, Feb. 5. (AP)

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