Hundreds of South Koreans Head North to Reunite With Their Loved Ones

For two hours in the afternoon, the South and North Koreans will finally be reunited with members of their family whom they've missed for as long as they can remember.

Most of those taking part are elderly people who are eager to see their loved ones once more before they die.

Millions of people were swept apart by the 1950-53 Korean War, which separated brothers and sisters, parents and children and husbands and wives.

The South Koreans are travelling by bus over the heavily guarded border to the Mount Kumgang tourist resort.

Yes Jiyoon. The families that headed to North Korea a few hours ago are the ones in the first session, which will last until Wednesday.

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

Since 2000 the two nations have held 20 rounds of reunions but time is running out for many ageing family members. Another 3,700 exchanged video messages with their North Korean relatives under a short-lived communication program from 2005 to 2007. And on the final day, the participants will see their relatives one last time before the South Koreans head back home.

On their second day, they are scheduled to meet again in the morning and have lunch together, the first time for separated families to have such a private meeting since the reunion event started.

After graduating from a Seoul university, Park's brother settled in the North Korean coastal town of Wonsan as a dentist in 1946.

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Moon Hyun-sook who has been selected as a participant for a reunion rests at a hotel used as a waiting place in Sokcho, South Korea, August 19, 2018. But after applying for a reunion, Mr Park learnt that his brother had died in the mid-1970s.

"I never imagined this day would come", she told AFP. "I wonder whether there's a chance he saw me when I was in Wonsan".

The separated families are victims of a decades-long standoff between the neighbors, which has escalated over the past several years as Pyongyang rapidly advanced its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

North Korea has shifted to diplomacy in recent months.

Among them was 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. The ministry estimates there are now about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.

The brief family reunions, which began in 1985, can be a traumatic experience for the aging survivors, they say.

A hundred people were chosen by each side to attend the reunion.

The 89 elderly South Koreans, dressed in their best suits in the scorching sun, hobbled one by one to 14 coaches in Sokcho - wheelchairs alongside the vehicles - some excited while others were still in disbelief, before the convoy set off with a police escort.

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