North Korea to host emotional family reunions


"Do you have a son?"

Lee Keum-seom said she lost track of her son, then aged four, and her husband in the panic of trying to flee.

They were to reunite with their long-lost North Korean relatives on Monday afternoon at the start of a three-day reunion.

The weeklong event at North Korea's Diamond Mountain resort comes as the rival Koreas boost reconciliation efforts amid a diplomatic push to resolve a standoff over North Korea's drive for a nuclear weapons program that can reliably target the continental United States. "Oh, I should ask him what his father told him about me". Some 57,000 South Koreans are waiting to be reunited with their families who might be living in the North.

More than 130,000 Southerners have signed up for a reunion since the events began but a lot of them have since died.

"I don't know when he will die". Kim Dal-in, 92, quipped as he met his younger sister, Yu-dok, 85.

Before leaving for the meeting, Lee told AFP: "I never imagined this day would come".

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.

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.

During Monday's meeting, many elderly Koreans held each other's hands and wiped away tears with handkerchiefs while asking how their relatives had lived.

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But as those who remember the war grow old, time is running out.

"I've prepared for him some household medicine including digester and headache pills, nutritional supplements as well as some daily necessaries", said Lee Soo-nam, a 76-year-old South Korean, due to meet his older brother in the North separated by the war.

The oldest South Korean participating in the latest gathering is 101 years of age.

Since 2000 the two nations have held 20 rounds of reunions but most of the more than 130,000 Southerners who signed up for a reunion since the events began have since died. Another 3,700 exchanged video messages with their North Korean relatives under a short-lived communication program from 2005 to 2007.

Clasping one another, they tried to bridge the decades of separation through precious physical contact and by showing each other pictures of their relatives.

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.

North Korea has shifted to diplomacy in recent months.

The pair were among 89 families chosen to take part in Monday's reunion at a holiday resort in the North, a result of the summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier this year.

92, meets with her North Korean son Ri Sung Chol (right), 71, at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North's southeastern coast. Some experts say warming inter-Korean relations could suffer a setback if the North refuses to accept a USA -led call for complete nuclear disarmament, and that is expected to figure into another inter-Korean summit set for next month in Pyongyang.

The two Koreas, which are technically still at war, have organised reunion events before, but this is the first in three years.