Hundreds of South Koreans Head North to Reunite With Their Loved Ones


In South Korea, more than half of the 132,600 people who applied for reunions - including some of those who got to see their relatives - have died.

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.

Another 337 South Koreans will be granted reunions later this week.

The first such family reunion in nearly three years started on Monday when a group of 89 South Koreans crossed the border to meet their family members at Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort in North Korea.

Past reunions have produced powerful images of elderly Koreans crying, embracing and caressing each other.

Since 2000 the two nations have held 20 rounds of reunions but time is running out for many ageing family members. Another 3,700 exchanged video messages with their North Korean relatives under a short-lived communication program from 2005 to 2007.

Some dropped out after realising the relatives they had hoped to see were no longer alive, so in total there'll be 83 North Koreans and 89 from the South.

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.

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South Korean Je-keun tried to explain that the Korean War took place because North Korean leader Kim Il Sung invaded on June 25, 1950.

Park Hong-seo, an 88-year-old Korean War veteran from the southern city of Daegu, said he always wondered whether he'd faced his older brother in battle. "Brother, it would be really good if Korean unification comes". Not knowing their separation would be permanent, she left them behind in the North during the war while fleeing south with her third and youngest daughter.

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. Lee, for example, asked her son how many children he had.

"I am very lucky", Lee Su-nam, who will meet his older brother, said four days before the reunion. "I wonder whether there's a chance he saw me when I was in Wonsan".

The reunions are resuming after a three-year hiatus as the North accelerated its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and relations deteriorated. 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.

They will only have three hours in private - during a meeting held in the rooms of the South Korean participants - before the families are separated once again on Wednesday - in all likelihood for a final time. The Unification Ministry estimates there are now about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.

In this October 22, 2015, file photo, North Korean Son Kwon Geun, (centre), weeps with his South Korean relatives as he bids farewell after the Separated Family Reunion Meeting at Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea.