21 Feb 2014

Reunited, briefly, after decades apart

2:46 pm on 21 February 2014

Hundreds of North and South Korean relatives are seeing each other for the first time in decades, at a reunion for families separated by the Korean War.

Kim Seok-Ryo (left) of North Korea, who's 80, is reunited with her sister Kim Song-Yun, 96, of South Korea.

Kim Seok-Ryo (left) of North Korea, who's 80, is reunited with her sister Kim Song-Yun, 96, of South Korea. Photo: AFP / YONHAP

The reunions, which come after North Korea called for better relations between the two sides, are taking place at North Korea's Mt Kumgang resort from 20 to 25 February.

More than 100 mostly elderly South Koreans arrived on Thursday for the event. Eighty-two of them, accompanied by 58 family members, came by bus carrying gifts such as clothing, medicine and food for their relatives. AFP reports that more than a dozen were in wheelchairs, and two travelled in ambulances as they needed medical attention.

About 180 North Koreans are thought to be at the reunion.

South Korea uses a lottery system to help determine who is to be included, and one of those selected to go this time was Lee Du-young, who is in his late 70s.

"It's hard for people to understand what it's like when you've been separated so long," he told the BBC before he left for the North. "But it's a true miracle; I'm so elated. All that was missing in my life was my brother, and now that I can see him again, I'd have no regrets whatsoever if I were to die tomorrow."

Mr Lee said that as well as warm clothing, he would buy his brother chocolate biscuits because he heard they were sought-after treats in North Korea.

The BBC's correspondent in Seoul says about 72,000 South Koreans are on a waiting list to join the reunion events, nearly half of them over 80. They are briefed before the reunions and told not to talk about politics. People from both sides are usually allowed meet for just a few hours.

Many families were split by the division of the Korean peninsula after the 1950-53 war. It ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty, and there are no direct means of communication for most North and South Koreans.