Several hundred mostly elderly South Koreans headed for North Korea Tuesday for a reunion with relatives they have been separated from since the Korean War.
Traveling in a fleet of buses following four black sedans flying Red Cross flags, they left a resort in the northeastern city of Sokcho, and headed to the heavily-fortified border where they hope to restore family ties that were cut during the 1950-53 war that ended in an uneasy truce between the communist North and democratic South.
Millions of people were displaced by the war and separated from family members.
Residents on either side of the border have long been forbidden to exchange phone calls or letters directly with one another. There have been 20 inter-Korean reunions arranged by both governments since 2000.
But this three-day reunion is only the second one in the past five years after the Koreas reached an agreement in August to ease tensions between them.
The reunions include 90 South Korean and 96 North Korean elderly who have been cut off from their family members for more than 60 years.
Jeon Hyung-kak, an 80-year-old South Korean who will meet his younger sister in North Korea, told VOA he has tossed and turned every night in anticipation.
“I have never seen her since we were separated during the war. I became so excited by the news that I could not sleep. I simply can not express my feeling,” said Jeon.
Jeon said he would give dried ginseng, cosmetics and vitamins, as gifts.
The reunions were suspended in 2010 after North Korea fired artillery shells at a South Korean border island, and Pyongyang cancelled reunions planned in 2013 at the last minute after claiming Seoul was trying to overthrow North Korea's government.
More than 65,000 South Koreans are on a long waiting list to see their long-lost relatives, many of them in their 80s and 90s. There was concern that this reunion would be canceled after Pyongyang indicated it would launch a long-range rocket during its recent ruling party anniversary celebration.