Korean families separated for decades after war to be reunited

North Korea to host emotional family reunions

"Uncles, take my deep bow", said Seo Soon-gyo (55), as her 87-year-old father, Seo Jin-ho, met with two younger brothers, Chan Ho and Won Ho.

Since 2000 the two nations have held 20 rounds of reunions but most of the more than 130,000 Southerners who have signed up for a reunion since the events began have since died.

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.

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.

Over the next three days, the participants will spend only about 11 hours together, mostly under the watchful eyes of North Korean agents, with only three hours in private before they are separated once again on Wednesday, in all likelihood for the final time.

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 emails.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to the latest round of reunions during their first summit in April.

More than 300 South Koreans will also travel north this coming weekend for a second round of reunions.

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.

Lim Eung-bok, who is meeting his brother and his family, said: "I have so many things I want to say but there are a lot of restrictions".

"I never imagined this day would come", Lee said.

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Past reunions have produced powerful images of elderly Koreans crying, embracing and caressing each other.

Lee was one of dozens of South Koreans who gathered Sunday at the Hanwha resort hotel, in Sokcho, south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas, where medical checks were carried out and participants were warned about nuances of visiting North Korea.

The three-day reunion is the first for three years and follows a diplomatic thaw on the peninsula. The ministry estimates there are now about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.

She could only say "Ah" and "When I fled." before choking up with tears.

"What they told me was shaped by the communist regime", the 90-year-old said.

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.

North Korea has shifted to diplomacy in recent months.

Starting on Thursday, there will be a meeting of another 88 groups of relatives, 469 from the South and 128 from the North, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.

A hundred people were chosen by each side to attend the reunion. Some were struggling to recognise family they have not seen in more than 60 years. "As a member of a divided family myself, I sympathize deeply with that sadness and pain".

Many were war refugees who fled south during the war, leaving relatives behind.

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

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