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Red Cross chief in North Korea to discuss separated families

GENEVA (Reuters) - The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday to discuss the reunification of families on the divided Korean peninsula and other humanitarian issues, the agency said.

North Korea said on Sunday it had accepted a South Korean offer to hold talks on resuming reunions of families separated by the Korean War, three days after an overture by South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

North Korea and South Korea are technically still at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

"We reiterate ICRC willingness to offer our support in an advisory capacity for family reunifications. We have many years of experience working in this area," ICRC spokesman Ewan Watson said in Geneva.

Maurer, making the first visit in 21 years by an ICRC president to reclusive North Korea, will stay until August 23, and will go to South Korea from August 26-27. The ICRC said he would and hold talks with officials "at the highest levels" in both countries.

"It would be fantastic if contact between separated family members was regular," Watson said. "We understand it runs into the thousands of separated family members who don't have contact with each other."

The North and South agreed last week to reopen a jointly-run industrial complex inside the North, which was abruptly closed in April at the height of tensions, when the North threatened to launch a nuclear attack on the South and on the United States.

There have been no family reunions for nearly three years, with grieving family members falling in number due to old age.

Previous reunions have been largely token and highly choreographed. North Korea wants to hold the next one at its Mount Kumgang resort while the South wants it to take place at the neutral border village of Panmunjom.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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