North and South Korea have no major differences on resuming reunions of families separated by the Korean War but are far apart on prisoners of war and civilian abductees, reports said Thursday.
The dispute over South Koreans allegedly held by the North emerged on the second day of the rare talks between the two sides to arrange reunions of families separated since the war ended in 1953, according to reports by South Korean media accredited to cover the talks.
The meeting, which opened at North Korea's Diamond Mountain resort on Wednesday, came as the communist regime adopts a more conciliatory stance toward South Korea and the U.S. after months of animosity over its nuclear and missile programs.
Earlier this month, the North said it would restart some joint projects including the meetings of separated families that have been stalled since the inauguration of a conservative government in South Korea about 18 months ago. Seoul officials said they considered the moves "positive" but that government-level talks were necessary before implementing them.
"There are no big differences" about when to hold the reunions, which will take place around the Chuseok autumn harvest holiday that falls on Oct. 3, one unidentified South Korean delegate was quoted as saying in the reports.
Chuseok is a major holiday on the Korean peninsula, equivalent to Thanksgiving in the United States.
The two sides were working to finalize schedules for the reunions, according to the reports.
Seoul wants them held in two stages in late September and early October, while Pyongyang demanded that both stages be held in early October, close to the Chuseok holiday, the reports said.
Millions of families remain separated following the war, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. No mail, telephone or e-mail exchanges exist between ordinary citizens across the Korean border.
A landmark inter-Korean summit in 2000 paved the way for face-to-face reunions of 16,210 Koreans and video reunions for more than 3,740 others.
The reunions were held annually but were suspended as North Korea cut off most ties in protest of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's hard-line policy toward Pyongyang.
A sticking point was whether South Korean prisoners of war and civilian abductees should be included in an agreement expected to be announced at the end of the talks Friday.
Seoul wants the issue mentioned while Pyongyang insists the two sides should only discuss family reunions.
South Korea estimates that 560 soldiers from the Korean War remain alive in North Korea, in addition to 504 South Korean civilians _ mostly fishermen whose boats were seized since the war's end.
North Korea says the civilians voluntarily defected to the North and denies holding any prisoners of war.
In previous rounds of reunions, 11 South Korean POWs and 14 abductees in the North were allowed to meet South Korean relatives, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry in charge of relations with Pyongyang.
A pro-Pyongyang newspaper based in Japan reported the North Korean delegates were "actively" engaging in the talks and told their South Korean counterparts on Wednesday that the resumption of family reunions would serve as a "new chance for improving North-South Korean relations."
The Choson Sinbo, considered a mouthpiece for the North Korean regime, said Thursday the two sides were "in a phase of breaking the impasse in their ties due to the top leader's determination," apparently referring to the North's absolute leader, Kim Jong Il.
The reunion talks are the latest in a series of conciliatory gestures by North Korea toward Seoul and Washington. North Korea freed two detained American journalists and a South Korean worker earlier this month.
In other conciliatory moves, the North has agreed to lift restrictions on border crossings with the South and pledged to resume suspended inter-Korean projects in tourism and industry. And last week, a North Korean delegation traveled to Seoul to mourn the death of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, an architect of the "Sunshine Policy," which improved relations with the North.
Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.