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North and South Korean families have begun the process of meeting with
long lost relatives separated by the Korean divide. Most are in their
80s or older, and have not seen each other for more than 50 years.
More than 90 South Koreans
passed through checkpoints Saturday to cross the heavily armed border
between North and South Korea, on their way to bittersweet reunions
half a century in the making.
Buses transported the elderly
South Koreans to North Korea's Kumgang Mountain resort, where they got
the chance to see family members they left behind in the early 1950s.
Korean broadcasters have begun relaying images of the families
exchanging their first words in decades, along with laughter and tears.
North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, unleashing three years
of war. Many Koreans fled to the South, leaving wives, husbands, sons,
and daughters behind.
The fighting was halted by a 1953
armistice but with no peace treaty, the two Koreas remain technically
at war, amid decades of isolation and hostility.
getting underway are the 17th in a series organized by the Red Cross.
They began after a historic 2000 inter-Korean summit thawed relations
between the two sides. They have been on hold for two years amid
tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons development.
Shin Gwang-sun is 92. He is reuniting this weekend with his daughter.
says when he left his family behind, his youngest daughter was just a
few months old. She will not recognize his face, he says, and she has
never seen a photo, either.
Shin is one of a lucky few winners
of a selection process for these reunions that involves both a random
lottery and a screening based on age and family history.
Tens of thousands of other Koreans are on waiting lists, hoping for a similar chance.
says when he got the call from the Red Cross, he was so happy, he
wondered if he was dreaming. He says he never dared imagine he could
see his daughter alive, and hear about his hometown. He considers
himself very lucky.
Included in the swell of emotion at these
events are, for some, pain and frustration. That is because out of
three days and two nights, the families will only see each other for a
total of about 11 hours. North Korea holds the events in banquet halls
with no real opportunity for privacy, and forbids the families from
spending the night together.
Many of the reunion participants
also realize that when the buses leave Mount Kumgang, it will be the
beginning of another period of separation, likely to last the rest of