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Korea to Hold Civilian Celebration

July 23, 2002

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ North Korea has agreed to send a non-governmental delegation to Seoul to join South Korean civic activists for joint celebrations of the Aug. 15 Korean Independence Day, South Korean organizers said Tuesday.

Independence Day is a major holiday in both Koreas, marking the end of Japanese colonial rule in 1945.

The agreement came after three days of talks in Pyongyang this week between 15 South Korean religious and civic leaders and their North Korean counterparts.

Unspecified number of North Koreans will visit Seoul on Aug. 14-17 for the planned festival including joint dance performances, the Seoul-based Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation said in a news release.

The agreement sets the stage for the two Koreas to resume contact _ albeit unofficial _ since their navies engaged in a deadly gunfight near the disputed western sea border on June 29.

The South Korean government has yet to approve the planned celebration.

South Korea has condemned North Korea for the naval clash, but vowed to keep its ``sunshine″ policy of engaging the communist state and continue inter-Korean civilian exchanges.

South Korea said North Korean warships violated its waters and opened fire, killing four South Korean sailors and wounding 19 others. One was missing.

North Korea accused South Korean navy ships of intruding into communist waters and initiating the skirmish. The North said it also suffered casualties but did not say how many.

During negotiations for the joint celebration, the South Korean civic leaders conveyed to Pyongyang officials Seoul’s concern about the negative effect the naval clash has on overall inter-Korean relations, the news release said.

The release did not say how the North Koreans responded.

The Korean peninsula was divided in 1945. The 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, and their border remains sealed and heavily armed. There are 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, protecting against attack from the North.

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