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SOKCHO, South Korea, August 20, 2018 (News Wires) - With tears and cries, dozens of elderly and frail South and North Korean family members met on Monday for the first time since the peninsula and their relationships were torn apart by war nearly 70 years ago.

Clasping one another, they tried to bridge the decades of separation through precious physical contact and by showing each other pictures of their relatives.

Many of the North Korean women were clad in traditional dresses, known as hanbok in the South and joseon-ot in the North, and all had the ubiquitous badges of the North's founder Kim Il Sung or his son and successor Kim Jong Il, while the Southerners wore their best suits.

As soon as 99-year-old South Korean Han Shin-ja approached their table, her two daughters -- aged 69 and 72 -- bowed their heads deeply towards her and burst into tears.

Han also broke down, rubbing her cheeks against theirs and holding their hands tightly.

"When I fled during the war..." she began, choking back tears as if she were about to apologise for leaving them behind.

Millions of people were swept apart by the 1950-53 Korean War, which separated brothers and sisters, parents and children and husbands and wives.

 

TOKYO, August 18, 2018 (MENA) - Japan has been facing growing calls internally for overhauling its policy toward North Korea, by allowing talks on possible economic aid to precede the delayed effort to resolve the issue of past abductions of Japanese by Pyongyang, government sources said on Saturday.

While North Korea has shown no signs of backing down from claiming that the issue of abductions in the 1970s and 1980s has been settled, Japan has maintained it will not normalize diplomatic relations with the North and extend economic assistance unless the issue is resolved, Japanese Kyodo News Agency reported on Saturday.

The proposed policy, which still faces strong opposition in the government, would focus on building mutual trust before paving the way for the resolution of the abduction issue, the sources said.

Since returning to power in 2012, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has placed priority on resolving the issue, and recently expressed his desire to engage in direct talks with North Korea.

The government is expected to decide how to approach North Korea, depending on progress in the ongoing talks between the United States and North Korea on denuclearization of the North, the sources said.

A series of meetings have been held at the prime minister's office since April to discuss Tokyo's strategy to get Pyongyang to the negotiating table. But no decision has been made so far.

The Japanese government officially lists 17 people as having been abducted by the North. Five of them returned in 2002, but Pyongyang maintains eight have died and four others never entered the country.

SEOUL, August 17, 2018 (MENA) - South and North Korea have agreed to hold a summit meeting between their leaders in Pyongyang in September, Yonhap News Agency reported on Friday.

The agreement has been made during high-level talks on the northern side of Panmunjom that separates the two Koreas. They, however, did not unveil the date of the meeting.

"We agreed to hold an inter-Korean summit within September in Pyongyang," the two Koreas said in a joint press statement issued after the meeting.

North Korea's chief delegate, Ri Son-gwon, hinted after the meeting that the two sides agreed on a date but decided not to announce it, only to emphasize that the summit will take place "within September."

SEOUL, August 17, 2018 (MENA) - North Korean leader Kim Jong-un harshly criticized international sanctions on the North during his visit to a tourist complex under construction on the North's eastern coast, Yonhap news agency reported on Friday.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that Kim, accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju and ranking government and party officials, inspected the construction site of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area.

In a meeting with construction workers there, Kim expressed discontent with international sanctions, accusing "hostile forces" of attempting to stifle the North's people through "brigandish" sanctions and blockade.

Following the North-US summit talks in Singapore on June 12, Pyongyang's official and propaganda media outlets have steadily displayed strong dissatisfaction with Washington-led international sanctions and have pressed South Korea not to blindly follow them.

 

WASHINGTON, August 16, 2018 (News Wires) - The United States imposed sanctions on a Russian port service agency and Chinese firms on Wednesday for aiding North Korean ships and selling alcohol and tobacco to North Korea in breach of US sanctions aimed at pressuring it to end its nuclear programmes.

The US Treasury said in a statement China-based Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Trading Co. Ltd and its Singapore-based affiliate SINSMS Pte. Ltd had netted more than $1 billion a year by exporting alcohol and cigarette products to North Korea.

The department also sanctioned Russian-based Profinet Pte Ltd and its director general, Vasili Aleksandrovich Kolchanov, for providing port services on at least six occasions to North Korean-flagged ships.

Kolchanov was personally involved in North Korea-related deals and interacted directly with North Korean representatives in Russia, the department said.

"The tactics that these entities based in China, Singapore, and Russia are using to attempt to evade sanctions are prohibited under US law, and all facets of the shipping industry have a responsibility to abide by them or expose themselves to serious risks," US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The sanctions mandate that no US citizen can deal with any of those designated in the order, and any of their properties in the United States "must be blocked", Treasury said.

The United States has been pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme.

Liang Ye, legal representative of Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Trading, said when asked for comment on the US Treasury statement the matter was still unclear and the Chinese company had not received any notice.

China's official Xinhua news agency said the United States needed to back off with the pressure on North Korea if it was serious about wanting lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.

"Washington should be reminded that the 'maximum pressure' approach on Pyongyang is not in keeping with the current situation on the Korean Peninsula and it needs to consider easing sanctions," Xinhua said in a commentary.

SEOUL, August 13, 2018 (Reuters) - North and South Korea agreed on Monday to hold a summit in the North in September, another step towards boosting co-operation between the old rivals, even as doubts grow over efforts to end the North’s nuclear weapons programme.

Officials from both sides meeting in the truce village of Panmunjom, in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas, reached an agreement on a September summit between the countries' leaders in the North’s capital of Pyongyang.

No date was announced for what will be the third meeting this year between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

They first met in April in Panmunjom, a remarkable thaw in ties after more than a year of rising tension and fears of war over the North’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

There they agreed that Moon would visit the North’s capital in the autumn, though the pair met again in May in an unannounced meeting at Panmunjom.

No details on an agenda for next month’s talks were announced, but the two Koreas have been discussing a range of issues, from a possible peace declaration to joint economic and infrastructure projects.

The progress between the two Koreas comes as North Korea and the United States are struggling to agree on how to bring about the North’s denuclearisation, after Kim vowed to work towards that goal at a landmark summit in June in Singapore with US President Donald Trump.

US officials have told Reuters that North Korea had yet to agree to a timeline for eliminating its nuclear arsenal or to disclose its size, which US estimates have put at between 30 and 60 warheads.

After Monday’s talks, Ri Son Gwon, the chairman of a North Korean committee aiming for the “peaceful reunification” of the peninsula, told reporters it was important to clear “obstacles” preventing inter-Korean relations from moving forwards.

“If the issues that were raised at the talks aren’t resolved, unexpected problems could emerge and the issues that are already on the schedule may face difficulties,” Ri said, without giving details.

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