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South Koreans head for reunions with family in the North

Around 400 South Koreans have crossed the border into the north to meet relatives separated in war. Most family members have either never met or have not seen each other in the last six decades.

A fleet of buses carried South Koreans from the port city of Sokcho to the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea, where the

three-day reunion

was taking place. South Korean Red Cross officials wearing bright yellow jackets held up banners saying "We are people of one nation."

More than 65,000 South Koreans are currently on the waiting list to meet family members in the north, who were separated from them by the Korean War in the 1950s. Most South Koreans bought clothes, watches, medicine, food and several thousand dollars in cash for their poorer relatives in North Korea.

"I couldn't sleep all night," 82-year-old Lee Joo-Kuk, who was going to meet his brother, said on Tuesday. "Our family was sure he was dead. We even held memorial rituals for him every year… But then I got the news that he was alive and wanted to see us. It's like he's been resurrected," he told AFP.

Citizens spout North Korean propaganda

However, families like Lee's will not be able to spend much time with their loved ones. According to the official plan, the relatives will meet six times in the next three days, but each interaction is to last only two hours. Furthermore, South Koreans who participated in previous reunions complained that their northern relatives had parroted Pyongyang's official propaganda.

This week's reunion was the result of

talks between Seoul and Pyongyang in August this year.

The Korean War displaced millions of people and separated thousands of families. The reunion program began after a North-South agreement in 2000, but thousands of families never got to take part in the event. Most people died without ever having a chance to see their families ever again and many more cannot directly contact their relatives through letters or by phone.

The war, which lasted from 1950 to 1953, ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty. The two Koreas are technically still at war.

mg/rc (AFP, dpa)

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