Korean families separated by war reunite after 65 years

Hundreds of South Koreans are crossing into North Korea this week to meet relatives they have not seen for decades after being separated by the 1950 Korean War.

The weeklong event, the first of its kind in almost three years, was arranged as the rival Koreas boost reconciliation efforts amid a diplomatic push to resolve a standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Most of the participants in the reunions are in their 70s or older and are eager to see their loved ones once more before they die.

"I've prepared for him some household medicine including digester and headache pills, nutritional supplements as well as some daily necessaries", Lee Soo-nam, a 76-year-old South Korean, told Reuters before meeting his older brother in the North separated by the war.

While 89 South Koreans were lucky enough to be selected, for thousands of other Koreans, time is running out.

The brief reunions are set to total just 11 hours over the next three days in the North's tourist resort of Mount Kumgang after the neighbours renewed exchanges this year following a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes.

Past reunions have produced powerful images of elderly Koreans crying, embracing and caressing each other.

The two sides have conducted 20 rounds of reunions since they began in 2000.

Numerous family members brought gifts for their North Korean relatives.

One woman, Lee Keum-seom, told CNN that she was seeing her son for the first time since he was 4 years old.


"Oh brother, it will be great when reunification happens", she said.

In the last round of reunions in 2015, Kim Hyun-sook met her North Korean daughter and granddaughter, but felt they couldn't speak freely in front of her.

Park learned that his brother died in 1984.

The South Koreans were chosen by lottery - the oldest of them is 101.

"I never imagined this day would come", she said. "I wonder whether there's a chance he saw me when I was in Wonsan". North Korean leader Kim Jon Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed in April to resume holding the family visits, as part of efforts to improve diplomatic relations.

The second round will run from Friday to Sunday, with 83 North Koreans expecting to reunite with their family members from the South. The Unification Ministry estimates there are now about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.

South Korean President Moon, himself a member of a separated family from the North's eastern port city of Hungnam, said on Monday that the reunions should be sharply scaled up and held on a regular basis and include exchanges of visits and letters.

More than 130,000 Southerners have signed up for a reunion since the events began but a lot of them have since died.

The limited number of reunions can not meet the demands of divided family members, who are now mostly in their 80s and 90s, South Korean officials say. Seoul's Unification Ministry reports that 75,000 of the 132,000 citizens who applied to attend a reunion have already died.

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