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S. Korea media take a trip north

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Until June, the South Korean news media and communist North Korea traded barbs, not compliments and curtsies.

But a thaw in relations between the two Koreas that started at their June summit now includes words like "understanding" and "exchanges." And on Saturday, 46 South Korean news executives began a rare trip to the isolated North to try the new warmth on for size.

Traveling via the Chinese capital of Beijing, they arrived in the airport outside Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. North Korean media executives greeted the southern visitors with bouquets, according to North Korean TV footage, carried by South Korea's MBC-TV.

The newspaper and broadcast presidents expected to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong II.

Before the summit, North Korea was virtually closed to outside news media.

Southern news media used to describe Kim Jong Il as an unpredictable recluse sponsoring terrorism. Until recently, North Korea called southern media the "stooges of reactionaries."

During the summit, both Koreas pledged to work together for reconciliation and encourage exchanges.

Also Saturday, South Korea's Red Cross selected the final 100 people to be reunited with long-lost relatives in North Korea on Aug. 15. The list was not made public, and the 100 people were notified individually.

The Red Cross said it gave priority to those with direct family — parents, children or siblings — in the North and those who are older.

The family reunions were a key part of the summit agreement. The accord calls for the two Koreas to exchange 100 people each for four days of temporary family reunions.

In another conciliatory move, South Korean officials said Saturday that soldiers will enter a heavily fortified buffer zone with North Korea to remove land mines before reconnecting a rail line across the border.

Both Koreas agreed last week to reconnect the railway that links Seoul to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, then continues to Shinuiju, a city on the North's border with China.

No train has run on the line across the border since the peninsula was divided into the communist North and the pro-Western South in 1945.

Once linked, the line would speed inter-Korean trade, which amounted to $330 million last year. Most cargo now travels by ship between ports on the west coast, a slow and expensive route.

During their weeklong trip to North Korea, the South Korean news executives will meet with their North Korean counterparts to discuss media and cultural exchanges.

"We will try to develop a deeper understanding of the North Korean news media through exchanges, and we will also urge them to understand the South," they said in a joint statement.

The head of the conservative Chosun daily, a vocal critic of the communist regime, refused to join the delegation.

South Korean Culture Minister Park Jie-won accompanied the executives, bringing along four South Korean blockbuster movies as a present for Kim Jong Il, who is known as a movie buff.

Park planned to propose a joint project to send South Korean tourists to the North's scenic Paekdu Mountain near its border with China and bring North Koreans to the South's southern resort island of Cheju.

South Korea's Hyundai conglomerate launched a $942 million tourism project at the scenic Diamond Mountain on the North's east coast in late 1998. Nearly 300,000 South Korean have visited the mountain since then.

The South's state-owned TV station KBS said its orchestra agreed to hold a joint performance with North Korea's national orchestra in Seoul in August.