Nervous Korean families wait to be reunited

North Korea to host emotional family reunions

Separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, dozens of elderly North and South Koreans have met for the first time since their families were broken apart almost 70 years ago. For many it will likely be the only chance they have to come face-to-face with long lost relatives.

Kim Kwang-ho, 79, speaks in front of some gifts for his family members in North Korea during an interview at his home in Seoul, South Korea.

The South Korean participants are mostly in their 70s and 80s, with a 101-year-old woman the oldest.

About 90 elderly South Koreans, accompanied by their family members, will have three days of meetings with their North Korean relatives before returning to the South on Wednesday.

Han also broke down, rubbing her cheeks against theirs and holding their hands tightly.

About 330 South Koreans from 89 families, many in wheelchairs, embraced 185 separated relatives from the North with tears, joy and disbelief.

The participants included the families of a prisoner of war and five people abducted by North Korean authorities during the conflict, though the six South Koreans they had hoped to meet had died. While South Korean choose participants through a computerized lottery, experts say North Koreans select candidates based on their perceived loyalty to the regime.

"It is a shame for both governments in the South and the North that numerous families have passed away without knowing whether or not their lost relatives were alive", Mr. Moon told a meeting with presidential secretaries.

Among the group is Lee Keum-seom, now a tiny and frail 92, who was waiting to see her son for the first time since she left him behind in the turmoil of war.

At the time Ri Sang-chol was just four.

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Her son showed her pictures of his family in the North - including her late husband - telling her: "This is a photo of father".

"When I fled during the war." she began, choking back tears as if she were about to apologise for leaving them behind. 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.

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

The two countries have held 20 rounds of such exchanges since 2000, but Monday's reunions were the first in three years. And time is running out, with many of them aged 80 or older.

Pak Sam Dong pointed at one of the images, telling his brother: "This is you".

Park Hong-seo, an 88-year-old Korean War veteran from the southern city of Daegu, said he always wondered whether he'd faced his older brother in battle.

The reunions are resuming after a three-year hiatus as the North accelerated its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and relations worsened.

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.

The two Koreas have since discussed cooperation in various fields at meetings between officials.

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