March 22, 2006

Angry N.Korea allows S.Korean families to depart

SEOUL (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 on Thursday.

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 on Wednesday 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.