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North Korea

Families divided by Korean war chosen for first reunions in three years

About 180 people separated after 1950-53 Korean war get first chance to meet since reunions were halted in 2015

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 1:53pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 10:37pm

A group of about 180 Koreans has been selected for a series of family reunions this month, the first such meetings to be held in three years as part of a continuing rapprochement between North and South Korea.

Families divided at the end of the 1950-53 Korean war periodically get a chance to meet relatives on the other side and the latest round comes in the wake of a historic summit between the leaders of the North and South in April.

South Korea will send 93 people to Mount Kumgang, a tourist region in North Korea near the border, from August 20-22. The area was open to South Koreans until 2010, when a North Korean guard shot and killed a tourist on a beach.

North Koreans will meet their relatives from the South from 24 to 26 August. But the age of participants from both sides highlights the decades-long divisions on the peninsula.

The group from South Korea includes a 101-year-old man and a 100-year-old woman, while 35 members of the group at older than 90.

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There is little information on the 88 North Koreans who have been selected after months of negotiations, but 62 are reportedly at least 80 years old.

There have been 20 reunions since 2000, but the last round was held in October 2015 before relations between the two sides deteriorated.

The meetings are often used as the first step for both sides to begin increased exchanges. South Korea has previously been open to holding reunions more often, while the North is keen to use the events as a bargaining chip in diplomacy.

More than 132,000 South Koreans applied in May with the Red Cross to meet their families on the other side of the world’s most militarised border, but only about 57,000 North Koreans were still alive, according to the South’s unification ministry.

The number was further reduced to just 500 in a lottery, and then further cut down based on factors such as health and age.

In the past the family reunions have been the first contact relatives have had in 60 years. Given the large pool of applicants and the limited number of spaces, it means it could be the only time they see each other face-to-face.