Tears, hugs, joy as family reunions begin

North Korea to host emotional family reunions

A group of elderly South Koreans have arrived in North Korea to meet relatives they have not seen since the Korean War of 1950-1953. One hundred slots were originally available, but some of the lottery winners dropped out when they learned the relatives in North Korea they wanted to see were no longer alive.

Lee Keum-seom, now tiny and frail at 92, met her son for the first time since she and her infant daughter were separated from him and her husband as they fled. The 99-year-old remained speechless for a while and tried to apologize, which was cut short by her daughters saying "it was OK" because their aunt had taken care of them.

"When I fled during the war." she began, choking back tears as if she were about to apologise for leaving them behind.

"What shall I ask?" she said.

For many, it's a chance for a final meeting with parents or children living inside the secretive dictatorship.

The long-awaited family reunions started at 3 p.m. Monday, and will continue over a three-day visit to the North. Families from South and North Korea are set to meet on six separate occasions.

Moon, himself a member of a separated family from the North's eastern port city of Hungnam, said the reunion meetings should happen more regularly and include exchanges of visits and letters.

Tens of thousands of Koreans have reunited since the early 2000s, but Monday's meet and greet was the first of its kind since 2015, after which tensions increased between the countries and reunifications were halted.

The Korean War separated millions of people from their families.

"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", South Korean President Moon Jae-in told a meeting with presidential secretaries Monday.

Lee Jong-shik, 81, finally tracked down his younger brother Ri Chong Song - but only after a heartbreaking meeting with the wrong person in 2009.

About 132,600 Koreans were listed as separated from their families by the end of July. They showed photos of family members who couldn't come to their meetings.

"There are over 56,000 people in the South who haven't met with their families in the North yet".

Almost 20,000 people have participated in 20 rounds of face-to-face reunions held between the countries since 2000.

Most of the 89 participants chosen from the South are in their 70s or 80s, while the oldest is 101. A separate round of reunions from Friday to Sunday will involve more than 300 other South Koreans, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.

"It is a shame for both governments that numerous families have passed away without knowing whether their lost relatives were alive", he told presidential secretaries at a meeting.

"I'm over 90 so I don't know when I am going to die".

"Expanding and accelerating family reunions is a top priority among humanitarian projects to be carried out by the two Koreas", he said.

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

Officially ending the war was a key element of the Panmunjom Declaration, and both North and South have said they are continuing to work towards that goal, even as negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington appear to have stalled.

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