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Korean families separated for decades after war to be reunited

21 August 2018

"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.

Many brought gifts of clothing, medicine and food for their North Korean relatives, since anything deemed extravagant by Pyongyang was unlikely to pass muster.

"This is a photo of my father, mom", Sang Chol said, showing her a picture of his late father-and her former husband.

Inter-Korean family reunion participants prepare to depart for North Korea from a hotel resort in Sokcho on August 20, 2018.

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. Most have had no word on whether their relatives are still alive because they are not allowed to visit each other across the border or even exchange letters, phone calls or email.

"How are you so old?"

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"I lead a respected life in Pyongyang", she said. They showed photos of family members who were not able to attend the meetings.

The oldest is 101-year-old Baek Seong-gyu, of South Korea, who was reunited Monday with his daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

Lee had been waiting 68 years for this moment, after the two became separated during the Korean War and became trapped either side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which now splits the two Koreas.

On seeing him however, there was no hesitation, and the two elderly Koreans embraced each other tightly, both in tears.

From Thursday, 88 more groups of relatives will meet, comprised of 469 individuals from the South and 128 from the North, Seoul's Unification Ministry says.

The two Koreas have held 20 rounds of face-to-face family reunions since the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000. Another 3,700 exchanged video messages with their North Korean relatives. None of them had a second chance to see or talk with their relatives.

"Whenever I saw pretty clothes, I always thought how cute they would look in them", she said.

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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 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.

South Korean Lee Geum-Sum, 92 (left) meets with her North Korean son Lee Sung-Chul, 71, during a separated family reunion meeting Monday at the Mount Kumgang resort in Mount Kumgang, North Korea. The Unification Ministry estimates there are now about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.

The war left the Korean peninsula divided and people who lived on the northern side were unable to leave. "This is the first time to see..." "As a member of a divided family myself, I sympathize deeply with that sadness and pain".

Ahn Seung-chun was headed to North Korea to see family members she's never met. Analysts say it sees the reunions as an important bargaining chip and believes more reunions would give its people a better awareness of the outside world.

According to South Korean officials, most participants are in their 80s and 90s.

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Korean families separated for decades after war to be reunited