South, North Korea families reunite decades after war

North Korea to host emotional family reunions

'I bought everything because it's my last time': South Korean relatives head for family reunions in North

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. Siblings embraced - even brothers who fought on different sides during the 1950-53 Korean War.

South Korean participants for a reunion arrive at the South's CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine), just south of the DMZ in Goseong, South Korea, August 20, 2018.

They will spend three days in North Korea but only be with their relatives for a few hours each day - in total, only 11 hours.

Since 2000 the two nations have held 20 rounds of reunions but most of the more than 130,000 Southerners who have signed up for a reunion since the events began have since died. Another 3,700 exchanged video messages with their North Korean relatives.

As soon as 99-year-old South Korean Han Shin-ja approached their table, her two daughters - aged 69 and 72 - bowed their heads deeply towards her and burst into tears.

"I haven't slept a wink since being selected for this family reunion", Byung-oh said as he met his sister, according to brief pool reports supplied by South Korean reporters.

After graduating from a Seoul university, Park's brother settled in the North Korean coastal town of Wonsan as a dentist in 1946. Some 57,000 South Koreans are waiting to be reunited with their families who might be living in the North. War refugee parents were finally able to see their own children for the first time after more than six decades.

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"I lead a respected life in Pyongyang", she said. "I wonder whether there's a chance he saw me when I was in Wonsan".

The week-long event is the first of its kind in almost three years, and was arranged as part of diplomatic efforts to resolve a stand-off over North Korea's nuclear ambitions. "Five of the nine people I fled North Korea with are dead already". The event, taking place for the first time since 2015, is part of a pledge by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their summit in April.

South Korea sees the separated families as the largest humanitarian issue created by the war, which killed and injured millions and cemented the division of the Korean Peninsula into the North and South. The Unification Ministry estimates there are now about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.

92, meets with her North Korean son Ri Sung Chol (right), 71, at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North's southeastern coast.

But Seoul has failed to persuade Pyongyang to accept its long-standing call for more frequent reunions with more participants.

The war left the Korean peninsula divided and people who lived on the northern side were unable to leave.

Since 1988, more than 132,000 people have registered with the Red Cross in South Korea for the reunion programme. While South Korean choose participants through a computerized lottery, experts say North Koreans select candidates based on their perceived loyalty to the regime.

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