S. Korean advance party heads to N. Korea ahead of family reunions

SEOUL, Sept. 20 (Yonhap) -- A group of Red Cross officials crossed the border into North Korea Friday to arrange accommodation for South Korean families scheduled to meet with their long-lost relatives in the communist country next week.

The advance party of about a dozen South Korean Red Cross officials entered North Korea via the border office on the east coast and headed to the venue of the temporary family reunions at the Mount Kumgang resort.

The reunions, scheduled for Sept. 25-30, are expected to bring together more than 90 South Koreans and their family members in the North who they were separated from in the 1950-53 Korean War.

If the reunions take place, they will be the first in nearly three years.

"Discussions are under way to review overall preparations for the event and to arrange details including lodging, the list of families and specific itinerary," Seoul's unification ministry official said.

The event comes amid a thaw in inter-Korean relations following months of tensions sparked by North Korea's third nuclear test in February and its closure of a joint industrial park in the North's border city of Kaesong in April, which was recently reopened.

The two Koreas have yet to agree on accommodation for the visiting South Korean families. South Korea has asked to use the Kumgangsan Hotel and Mount Kumgang Hotel, deemed more convenient for the elderly than the floating Kumgang Beach Hotel and the workers' dormitory for the Hyundai Asan Corp that the North has offered in response.

"We've yet to reach an agreement over the lodging issue. More discussions are needed," the official added.

The advance team is planning to stay in the North until the event to arrange details for successful reunions, according to the ministry.

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