Separated by war, mother sees son for first time in 68 years

Lee Gyum-sum of South Korea meets with her North Korean son Lee Sung-chul during the inter Korean family reunions

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. Both dissolved into sobs, reports CNN.

The reunions, the first in three years, took place in the North's tourist resort on Mount Kumgang, as agreed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their first summit in April.

Most of those taking part in the reunions are older than 80, making it likely that this week's heavily supervised get-togethers will be their only reunions.

After 11 hours together over the next three days, the pair will part, nearly certainly never to see each other again, and - unless something changes - they won't even be able to exchange letters.

During the three years since the reunions were last held, North Korea tested three nuclear weapons and multiple missiles that demonstrated they potentially could strike the continental United States. They showed photos of family members who were not able to attend the meetings.

At the meeting, as soon as 99-year-old South Korean Han Shin-ja approached her table, her two daughters - aged 69 and 72 - bowed their heads deeply towards her and burst into tears. A separate round of reunions from Friday to Sunday will involve more than 300 other South Koreans, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.

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"I never imagined this day would come", she told AFP.

About 330 South Koreans from 89 families, many in wheelchairs, embraced 185 separated relatives from the North with tears, joy and disbelief. In the history of the program, no one has been allowed to see their loved ones a second time after participating.

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.

Many brought gifts of clothing, medicine and food for their North Korean relatives, since anything deemed extravagant by Pyongyang was unlikely to pass muster. Choco Pies, a marshmallow between two pieces of cake and covered in chocolate, are particularly popular in North Korea, and were previously offered as bonuses to workers in joint manufacturing projects. The ministry estimates there are now about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.

Since 1988, more than 132,000 people have registered with the Red Cross in South Korea for the reunion programme. "In fact, meeting them for that little moment made me miss them more ardently than before", she said in an interview.

But Seoul has failed to persuade Pyongyang to accept its long-standing call for more frequent reunions with more participants. Analysts say it sees the reunions as an important bargaining chip and believes more reunions would give its people a better awareness of the outside world. While South Korea uses a computerized lottery to pick participants for the reunions, North Korea is believed to choose based on loyalty to its authoritarian leadership.

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