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Dozens of South Koreans travel north for family reunions

DOZENS of elderly South Koreans crossed the border into the North today for heart-rending meetings with relatives most haven’t seen since being separated by the Korean war.

The week-long event at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort reflects reconciliation efforts amid a diplomatic push to resolve relations between Pyongyang and Washington, centring on the North’s nuclear weapons programme and provocative US-South Korean annual war games on the Korean peninsula.

Temporary reunions are highly emotional because most participants are elderly people eager to see their loved ones once more before they die. Most were driven apart during the 1950-53 conflict, which ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula in a technical state of war.

Buses carrying about 90 elderly South Koreans and their family members travelled to the resort after crossing into North Korea. They were reunited with long-lost relatives yesterday afternoon at the start of a three-day reunion.

A further round of reunions at the weekend will involve more than 300 other South Koreans, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

Nearly 20,000 people, including South Korean President Moon Jae In, have taken part in 20 rounds of face-to-face reunions since 2000, with another 3,700 exchanging video messages with their northern relatives under a short-lived communication programme from 2005 to 2007.

The Unification Ministry estimates that 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans have immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.

During the three years since the reunions were last held, the North tested three nuclear weapons and multiple missiles that demonstrated they could potentially strike the continental United States.

Following the surprising outbreak of diplomacy between North Korean head Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, the Korean state leaders agreed to resume the reunions during the first of their two summits in April.

The limited number of reunions cannot meet the demands of divided family members, who are now mostly in their 80s and 90s, South Korean officials say.

More than 75,000 of the 132,000 South Koreans who applied to participate in reunions have died, according to the Seoul ministry.

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