Korean families separated for decades after war to be reunited

With tears and cries, dozens of elderly and frail South and North Korean family members met on Monday (Aug 20) for the first time since the peninsula and their relationships were torn apart by war almost 70 years ago.

The weeklong event at North Korea's Diamond Mountain resort comes as the rival Koreas boost reconciliation efforts amid a diplomatic push to resolve a standoff over North Korea's drive for a nuclear weapons program that can reliably target the continental United States.

Most of those taking part are elderly people who are eager to see their loved ones once more before they die.

North and South Korea's 89 families torn apart by the 1950-53 Korean War were temporarily reunited in the North today after the two Koreas renewed exchanges this year following a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes. The two sides have conducted 20 rounds of reunions since they began in 2000.

Crying and talking excitedly, the reunited relatives clasped one another and tried to bridge decades of separation through precious physical contact, pulling out pictures of absent relatives so they could be included in the happy occasion.

Many of the South Korean participants are war refugees born in North Korea who will be meeting their siblings or the infant children they left behind, many of them now into their 70s.

Many are bringing gifts like clothes, medicine and food for their relatives in the much poorer North.

Madam Lee shouted his name when she saw the now 71-year-old, before hugging him as both were overcome with emotion. But after applying for a reunion, Mr Park learnt that his brother had died in the mid-1970s.

"I never imagined this day would come", she said.

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Lim Eung-bok, who is meeting his brother and his family, said: "I have so many things I want to say but there are a lot of restrictions".

They will meet on six occasions lasting about a combined 11 hours during their three-day stay that will end Wednesday.

The event, which is facilitated by the Red Cross, was one outcome of a historic visit between North Korea's Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April.

On Monday morning, numerous South Korean participants were in wheelchairs or helped by family members or support staff as they arrived at a Seoul-run front-line immigration office. The ministry estimates there are now about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.

But Seoul has failed to persuade Pyongyang to accept its long-standing call for more frequent reunions with more participants. And time is running out, with many of them aged 80 or older.

A South Korean participant for a reunion sits inside a bus as she arrives at the South's CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine), just south of the DMZ in Goseong, South Korea, August 20, 2018. "Ahead of the reunions, we are thoroughly checking their health conditions so that they can attend the events as planned", said physician Han Sang-jo.

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

Lee Soo-nam, 76, explains about photos showing his family members during an interview at his home in Seoul, South Korea.

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