South Koreans meet relatives in North after decades apart

South Korean family reunification

North Korea to host emotional family reunions

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.

The Korean families were torn apart by political strife that ravaged the peninsula following the end of the 1950-53 war - which concluded with a truce rather than a peace treaty - and the North's ramped-up nuclear program.

South Korea's Yonhap Newsreported on Monday that some of the participants were so frail that they spent the reunion in wheelchairs or needed help to stand.

They set off for North Korea on Monday to meet their relatives for the first time in almost seven decades since the conflict divided the peninsula.

In a statement Monday, President Moon urged both Koreas to work towards more reunions in future, noting his own family history as the child of North Korean refugees.

Past reunions have produced powerful images of elderly Koreans crying, embracing and caressing each other. Another 3,700 exchanged video messages with their North Korean relatives.

Some of those selected for this year's reunions gave up after learning that their parents or siblings had died and that they could only meet more distant relatives whom they had never seen before.

"This is my last opportunity to meet my nephew", said Lee Kwan-joo, 93, who was born in Pyongyang and came to South Korea after beingseparated from his older brother during the war. Some of them brought photographs of large extended families in South Korea that could not make the trip north of the border.

"Oh brother, it will be great when reunification happens", she said. 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.

Park learned that his brother died in 1984.

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92, meets with her North Korean son Ri Sung Chol (R), 71, during a separated family reunion meeting at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North's southeastern coast on August 20, 2018.

"I think there's going to be a lot of difference, in the language, in the way of thinking, and the lifestyles we lived", Lee said. "I wonder whether there's a chance he saw me when I was in Wonsan".

The separated families are victims of a decades-long standoff between the neighbors, which has escalated over the past several years as Pyongyang rapidly advanced its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

North Korea has shifted to diplomacy in recent months.

The event, which is facilitated by the Red Cross, was one outcome of a historic visit between North Korea's Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April.

These individuals attest that titles ranging from "Grand Theft Auto V" to "FIFA Online" have been increasingly popular among younger North Koreans, especially in more underground circles.

The South Koreans travelled by bus over the heavily guarded border to the Mount Kumgang tourist resort on Monday.

North Korea is reluctant to accept calls for more reunions.

Over the next three days, the participants will spend only about 11 hours - mostly under the watchful eyes of North Korean agents - with their relatives in the North. A separate round of reunions from Friday to Sunday will involve more than 300 other South Koreans, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry. This is largely due to the fact that North Korean officials did not want the people of North Korea to see the conditions of the outside world.

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