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A breakthrough agreement between longtime enemies on mainland China and Taiwan includes important steps meant to stop a spate of hijackings from China.

It was the first significant agreement since formal contact between the two rival governments began in the spring of 1993. The latest talks ended Sunday, and the highest-ranking Chinese envoy to visit Taiwan since 1949, Tang Shubei, flew back to Beijing on Monday.The two sides reached consensus on how to deal with hijackers, as well as illegal mainland workers in Taiwan and fishing disputes in the Taiwan Straits, a joint news release said. A formal agreement will be signed after minor differences are resolved, it said.

Details were sketchy, but negotiators called the results a breakthrough after months of low-level talks.

Nationalist forces fled the mainland in 1949 when the Communists won a civil war and established a government. Both Beijing and Taipei claim to be the rightful rulers of all China.

In striking the deals, China made limited concessions, evading what could be interpreted as recognition of the jurisdiction of Taiwan's courts. But the broader issue of sovereignty was left untouched.

Relations between the two sides began to improve in the mid-1980s, but 12 hijackings of Chinese airliners to Taiwan since April 1993 have threatened to undermine recent progress. In the latest case, in June, 139 people aboard a Boeing 737 returned safely to China after the hijacker was apprehended at Taipei's airport.

Taiwan previously insisted on the right to try all Chinese hijackers and refused to repatriate those who acted for political or religious reasons.

China agreed that Taiwan can take humanitarian concerns into account when repatriating hijackers but refused to put the words "political reasons" into the agreement.

China also agreed Taiwan would look into the cases before sending the hijackers back, said an official in Beijing connected to the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity and declined to give further details.