First Korean cross-border phone link for 50 years will reunite 40 families

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The Independent Online

It is a fresh concession by reclusive North Korea which has allowed the reunions next month to coincide with joint celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Korean independence from Japanese rule. Twenty families from each side are to meet in the reunions, which are being prepared by technicians who have laid fibre-optic cable, and yesterday hooked up the telephone and fax line. The Korean people have been separated by the most heavily fortified border in the world for the past 50 years.

Face-to-face reunions will also be held at the North's Diamond Mountain resort, the 11th round of such reunions since the first summit in June 2000 between the leaders of the North and South. Nearly 10,000 separated relatives have met.

The North Korean leadership is so paranoid that an experiment with mobile phones, reserved for the military alone, was ended after only months. The state bans use of the internet.

Plans for more direct connections, such as rail and transportation links, have been put on hold because of the nuclear issue that has bedevilled North Korea's relations with the outside world.

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