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Families Say Tearful Goodbyes as Latest Round of Korean Family Reunions End


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Families from South and North Korea tearfully ended the latest round of reunions for separated relatives. It was the first time these meetings were held in two years. Jason Strother has more from Seoul.

After sad goodbyes, South Korean families returned home from North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort on Thursday.

For the past six days, several hundred relatives from both sides of the Korean peninsula met at the resort. Most had not seen each other since the Korean War erupted in 1950.

Tens of thousands of families are divided by the border separating the two nations. There is no communication between the two countries.

Reunions have been held sporadically since 2000; this latest round was the first in two years. Pyongyang had called off the gatherings in protest to the conservative South Korean government, which was elected in 2007.

The reunions are emotional, as the relatives are quite elderly and may never see each other again. Observers say many South Koreans feel sympathetic for the divided families and calls for greater cooperation with North Korea tend to increase when reunions are held.

North Korea analyst Andrei Lankov at Seoul's Kookmin University says that is exactly what Pyongyang wants.

"It is obviously in hope to mobilize some pro-North Korean support to increase pressure over the [South Korean] government on the assumption that the government will be more willing to give more concessions to the North Koreans," Lankov said.

The resumption of the family reunions is seen by many in the South as a sign that inter-Korean relations are improving. Earlier this year, North Korea tested a nuclear device and said it would renounce the cease-fire agreement that has been in effect since 1953.

South Korean news media report that the impoverished North Korea has asked Seoul for fertilizer and food aid in return for holding the reunions.

Analyst Andrei Lankov says he expects the South to offer some sort of concession.

"Dealing with North Korea is largely about giving them money and concessions," Lankov said. "We are dealing with a very brutal government, which is ready to create trouble for everybody, so it is important to give something that will at least partially go to the people, not the government."

While progress may have been made on family reunions, efforts to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program remain deadlocked. Next week, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will travel to Pyongyang where he is expected to urge ruler Kim Jong Il to return to multinational disarmament talks.


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