South Koreans head for family reunions in North after decades apart

South Koreans head for family reunions in North after decades apart

South Koreans head for family reunions in North after decades apart

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.

A total of 100 people were chosen on each side to attend the reunion, but some dropped out after realising the relatives they had hoped to see were no longer alive.

The emotional reunions will take place over three days but relatives will only be given 11 hours to catch up on decades of lost time. More than 300 South Koreans will also travel north this coming weekend for a second round of reunions.

On seeing him however, there was no hesitation, and the two elderly Koreans embraced each other tightly, both in tears. The two Koreas have held 20 face-to-face family reunions and seven video reunions since 2000.

Around 89 South Korean survivors, mostly in their 70s and older, got the chance to meet around 180 of their long-lost relatives living in the North at Mount Kumgang.

As seen in the footage, brothers and sisters who had not seen each other for about 70 years were reunited, shedding tears and holding onto one another with deep sentiments.

The reunions should be scaled up sharply, held regularly, and include exchanges of visits and letters, said Moon, himself a member of a separated family from the North's eastern port city of Hungnam.

Soon-ok showed her brother an old photograph of herself at medical school and said she had worked as a doctor.

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.

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"I've prepared for him some household medicine including digester and headache pills, nutritional supplements as well as some daily necessaries", Lee Soo-nam, 76, who was due to meet his older brother, told Reuters news agency.

Lee Gyum-sum (L), 92, of South Korea meets with her North Korean son Lee Sung-chul (R), 71, during the inter-Korean family reunions.

"When I fled home in the war..." were the only words Han, overcome with emotion, could utter.

During the three years since the reunions were last held, the North tested three nuclear weapons and many missiles, some of which could potentially reach the continental United States.

Unofficial reunions can cost about $1500 (NZ$2252), but the process can be faster and is less dependent on the political climate between North and South.

They were the 89 lucky families selected from the more than 57,000 who had applied for the reunions, agreed to under the Panmunjom Declaration signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an historic summit earlier this year. South Korean Red Cross President Park Kyung-seo expressed frustration with the slow pace of family reunifications, a pace that is especially unfortunate given the advanced age of many participants.

"It is a shame for both governments in the South and the North that numerous families have passed away without knowing whether or not their lost relatives were alive", Mr. Moon told a meeting with presidential secretaries.

The South Koreans are travelling by bus over the heavily guarded border to the Mount Kumgang tourist resort.

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