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(LEAD) S. Koreans head to North Korea for family reunions

All Headlines 10:19 August 20, 2018

(ATTN: RECASTS throughout with details, photos)

SEOUL/SOKCHO, Aug. 20 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- A group of 89 South Koreans left for North Korea Monday to meet their families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

South and North Korea will begin their weeklong family reunion events from Monday, the first such events since October 2015.

The elderly people and more than 300 others left for a Mount Kumgang resort on the North's east coast in nearly 30 buses in the morning from the northeastern coastal city of Sokcho, where they spent the night.

Some were in wheelchairs or supported by their accompanying families when they boarded the buses with bags of gifts prepared for their loved ones in the North.

This photo taken by Joint Press Corps shows an elderly South Korean man in a wheelchair supported by his family moving to board a bus bound for a Mount Kumgang resort on North Korea's east coast, the venue for his long-awaited family reunion event. (Yonhap)

Many of them waited in the hotel lobby way ahead of schedule for the departure.

"I slept before 9 p.m. last night and woke up at around 3 in the morning," said Shin Jong-ho, one of the elderly persons.

"I feel okay now with no health problems. I hope that things continue like this when I arrive there," the 70-year-old added.

The first session of reunions is scheduled for 3 p.m., followed by a dinner hosted by the North Korean side.

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

They will meet on six occasions lasting about a combined 11 hours during their three-day stay that will end Wednesday.

The South Korean participants are mostly in their 70s and 80s, with a 101-year-old man the oldest.

This photo provided by Joint Press Corps shows an elderly South Korean in a bus waving before leaving for Mount Kumgang where he is to meet his long-separated family. (Yonhap)

As many participants are elderly, reunions between parents and sons and daughters are rare. Most cases were meetings among cousins, nieces or nephews.

The government has dispatched around 30 medical staff to the venue to brace for any emergency cases among the participants.

From Friday to Sunday, 83 North Koreans will also be reunited with the families they have found alive in the South at the resort.

The family reunion is the result of an agreement the leaders of South and North Korea reached in April to address humanitarian issues arising from nearly seven decades of division caused by the Korean War.

The two Koreas have held 20 rounds of face-to-face family reunions since the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000. Some 57,000 South Koreans are waiting to be reunited with their families who might be living in the North.

The two Koreas technically remain at war as the Korean War ended only with an armistice, not a peace treaty.


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