By Ju-min Park
SEOUL (Reuters) - Families torn apart by the Korean War six decades ago are to reunite briefly near the heavily fortified border of North and South Korea next month under a deal reached between the two sides on Tuesday, according to a statement from the South.
The agreement to hold reunions, which would be the first since 170 families embraced in emotional scenes in February last year, follows the negotiated end to a recent armed confrontation across the border.
"The South and the North shared the view that we will work to fundamentally resolve humanitarian issues," the South's Unification Ministry said, quoting from the agreement which followed almost 24 hours of talks between Red Cross officials from both sides at the border village of Panmunjom.
The reunions will be held from Oct. 20 to 26 at Mount Kumgang resort just north of the border, where previous reunions have been held, with 100 participants from each country.
Nearly 130,000 South Koreans looking for family members in the North have registered with the government in Seoul since 1988, but only about 66,000 are still alive, with most aged 70 or more, according to Unification Ministry data.
Some critics say the reunion program works too slowly and involves too few families. Many elderly people on both sides die before they can reconnect with loved ones. South Korea seeks the reunions as a top priority, but the North has been reluctant.
Tuesday's agreement called for more talks to pave the way for further reunions, beyond those scheduled for next month.
Seoul and Pyongyang have remained technically in a state of war since the 1950-53 war ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
Last month, tensions boiled over into an exchange of artillery fire, after Seoul blamed Pyongyang for land mine explosions that wounded two South Korean soldiers. North Korea denied the accusations, and the confrontation was finally resolved after marathon talks between government officials.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Mark Bendeich)