South Koreans meet relatives in North after decades apart

South Koreans meet relatives in North after decades apart

Some of the South Koreans were in wheelchairs or had to be supported by accompanying family members when they boarded the buses with bags of gifts prepared for their long-lost families in the North. After the war broke out, Park was told by a co-worker that his brother refused to flee to the South because he had a family in the North and was a surgeon in the North Korean army. Most of these families were separated during the turmoil of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Hostilities ceased with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically still at war and the peninsula split by the impenetrable Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), with all direct civilian exchanges - even mundane family news - banned.

The emotional reunions will take place over three days but relatives will only be given 11 hours to catch up on decades of lost time.

According to pool reports, the event began with a popular North Korean song "Nice to meet you" - also well known in the South - blaring out from speakers. 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.

Many of the North Korean women wore traditional dresses, known as hanbok in South Korea and joseon-ot in the North, and all wore the ubiquitous pins commemorating North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung or his son and successor Kim Jong-il, while the Southerners wore their best suits.

"When I fled home in the war.", Han said, faltering as she choked with emotion and left her sentence incomplete.

With time taking its toll, such parent-child reunions have become rare.

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

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80-year old Kim Gwang-ho met his younger brother, 78-years-old, and his wife. They showed photos of family members who were not able to attend the meetings.

"I tried so hard, too, searching for you for seven years", Ri told his brother.

Moon Hyun-sook, 91, said she put together clothes, cosmetics and medicine for her two sisters, younger than she is by 12 and 26 years.

But on Monday, 92-year-old Lee Keum-seom of South Korea traveled across the border and got to meet and hug her son Sang Chol, now 71 himself.

During the three years since the reunions were last held, the North tested three nuclear weapons and multiple missiles that demonstrated they potentially could strike the continental United States.

The series of brief meetings reflect a thaw in diplomatic tensions between the governments of the two Koreas.

But while Kim and US President Donald Trump held a landmark summit in Singapore in June, Pyongyang has yet to make clear what concessions it is willing to make on its nuclear arsenal, while Washington is looking to maintain sanctions pressure on it.

Ninety-three families from both sides of the border were initially scheduled for a three-day gathering from Monday, but four South Korean members cancelled their trip to the North at the last minute due to health conditions, the Red Cross said.

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