Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Korean families begin reunions

South Korean Kim Sung-yoon, 96, right, meets her North Korean sister Kim Seok Ryu, 80, during the Separated Family Reunion Meeting at Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea (AP)

Elderly North and South Koreans separated for six decades are tearfully reuniting, grateful to embrace children, brothers, sisters and spouses they had thought they might never see again.

About 80 elderly South Koreans travelled through falling snow with their families to North Korea's Diamond Mountain to reunite with relatives they had not seen since the 1950-53 Korean War. Seoul says about 180 North Koreans were expected.

South Korean TV showed elderly women in traditional hanbok dresses talking and hugging at the resort. Stooped men wiped away tears with their handkerchiefs.

Another old man was wheeled into the meeting room on a stretcher, a blue blanket wrapped tightly around him.

More reunions are planned through until Tuesday. This round of reunions over the world's most heavily fortified border, the first since 2010, comes amid a North Korean charm offensive.

The rival nations struck a deal last week to go ahead with brief meetings of war-divided families, although there was wariness in Seoul that Pyongyang could back out.

North Korea is pushing for better ties with the South, and has ratcheted down harsh rhetoric that swelled last spring with a torrent of threats to launch nuclear strikes against Seoul and Washington.

Analysts say the North hopes better relations with Seoul will attract badly needed foreign investment and aid.

Millions of Korean families have been separated since the war. Both governments ban their citizens from visiting each other or even exchanging letters, phone calls and emails.

During a previous period of rapprochement, about 22,000 Koreans have had brief reunions - 18,000 in person and the others by video.

In 2000, South Korea created a computerised lottery system for South Koreans hoping for reunions, and since then nearly 130,000 people, most in their 70s or older, have entered. Only about 70,000 are still alive.

Those selected for aborted reunions in September get another chance this week.

However, two of the South Koreans selected and three of North Koreans have died since then, according to South Korea's Red Cross, which is helping arrange the meetings along with its North Korean counterpart.

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