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Angry N.Korea allows S.Korean families to depart

Written by: Staff

SEOUL, Mar 23 (Reuters) North Korea has allowed nearly 100 visiting South Koreans to return home after delaying their departure over objections to news reports that it had abducted people, officials said today.

The South Koreans, several of them in their 80s and 90s, met long-lost relatives from the communist North at a mountain resort in a reunion that started on Monday.

They were supposed to leave yesterday afternoon, but North Korea delayed their departure for about 10 hours, South Korean officials said.

The group included three families of South Koreans believed to have been held as prisoners of war or civilians abducted against their will and held in the North, officials said.

South Korean officials believe there are more than 540 South Korean POWs and 480 civilians abducted by the North who are still alive in the country.

North Korea was angered by South Korean broadcasters who had referred to a South Korean man as ''an abductee'' in a report about him being reunited with his South Korean wife for the first time in decades.

The North wanted him to be called a ''missing person'', according to South Korean media pool reports from the reunion.

The pool reports said North Korea demanded that one South Korean reporter who used the term abductee in a broadcast agree to exit the country before it would allow the South Korean families to depart.

There is a second set of reunions from Thursday, and many South Korean reporters are staying to cover the event.

Broadcaster SBS said in a statement that one reporter who had raised the North's ire had returned to the South. SBS said it did not bow to pressure from the North but made the decision on its own to bring the reporter back.

Because of North Korean anger over the reports, private meetings between the families torn apart by the 1950-1953 Korean War were delayed for about seven hours on Tuesday.


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