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Koreans in Japan, long divided by their allegiance to the South or North, have been stepping up friendly exchanges since the historic summit in June between the Korean Peninsula’s two leaders, according to a recent report by a pro-Seoul group.

Around 550 people participated in four events from January to May held jointly by local chapters of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun) and the pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan), the Mindan report says.

But from June to September, 3,200 people participated in 61 events in 19 prefectures. The summit in Pyongyang between South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il took place from June 13 to 15.

An Aug. 24 festival in Kawasaki attracted 1,200 Koreans from both sides, while some 400 Korean youths gathered at a July 2 festival in Kobe, the report says.

Mindan spokesman Pae Chol Un said: “The increase in exchanges is, of course, a fruit of the summit talks in June, and the events are aimed at harmonization among all Koreans.

“We would like to promote exchanges in nonpolitical fields,” Pae said.

So Chung On, head of the international department at Chongryun, said: “The headquarters of the two groups are currently discussing how to set up a mechanism for mutual consultations. We would like to promote joint events by local chapters.”

The two groups have long displayed antagonism toward each other and remain opposed on policies, including moves to give foreign permanent residents of Japan voting rights in local elections.

While Mindan supports such a move, Chongryun has called it insufficient and has demanded that permanent residents also have the right to run in elections. Chongryun also objects that the proposed move would grant voting rights only to foreigners with permanent residence status.

Local branches of the two groups, however, have been increasing exchanges.

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