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Koreas Agree To Reunite Families Divided By War

North and South Korea agreed to restart the reunification meeting Oct. 20 to 26, state media reported Tuesday.

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South Korea's chief delegate Lee Deok-haeng, second from right, shakes hands with North Korean counterpart Pak Yong Il, second from left, before the Inter-Korean Red Cross working level meeting at the border village of the Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea.

Families ripped apart by war on the Korean peninsula could soon be reunited under an agreement announced Tuesday.

The reunions, which according to state media are scheduled to take place Oct. 20 to 26, are the first to be planned since last year and come amid heightened tensions between North and South Korea.

Many families separated by the Korean War in the 1950s have been kept apart for decades by the most heavily fortified border in the world. North Korea, distrustful of its neighbor to the south, has resisted calls to organize more frequent family meetings, apparently fearful of the influence such interactions could introduce from the outside — and free — world.

Lee Jin-man / AP

South Koreans who were separated from their families during the Korean War talk with Red Cross members as they check application forms to reunite with their family members living in North Korea.

The decision to host a new round of reunifications — facilitated via the Korean Red Cross — came after overnight talks among the Koreas' Red Cross officials at the border village of Panmunjom that began Monday, the Associated Press reported.

Most applicants to take part in the reunifications are in their 70s or older and desperate to see family members before they die, according to the AP. An estimated 100 people from each nation are slated to participate.

Tensions between the two nations flared after two South Korean soldiers were severely injured in a mine blast, prompting South Korea to start playing propaganda broadcasts over loud speaker across the border after more than a decade of silence.

The Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, so the two nations have been in a constant state of tension ever since. It wasn't until last month that South Korea stopped playing the broadcasts — which encouraged frontline soldiers in the North to defect — prompting North Korea to lift a“quasi-state of war.”

Jason Wells is deputy news director for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

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