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Wednesday, August 22, 2018, 17:59
Korean relatives bid emotional farewell after reunions
By Associated Press
Wednesday, August 22, 2018, 17:59 By Associated Press

Lee Keum-seom (center), 92, from the ROK, hugs her son Ri Sang-chol (left), 71, from the DPRK, with Kim Ok-hui, daughter-in-law of Ri Sang-chol during the separated family reunion meeting at the Diamond Mountain resort in the DPRK, Aug 20, 2018. (LEE JI-EUN / YONHAP VIA AP)

SEOUL, ROK — Hundreds of elderly Koreans tearfully said their final goodbyes Wednesday at the end of the first round of rare reunions between relatives separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

About 200 people from the Republic of Korea (ROK) will return to their home later Wednesday after the end of three days of meetings with their relatives from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) at the Diamond Mountain resort in DPRK. Another 337 citizens from ROK will participate in a second round of reunions from Friday to Sunday.

Nearly 20,000 people have participated in 20 rounds of face-to-face reunions held between the countries since 2000

The first set of reunions created heart-wrenching images of relatives weeping, embracing and caressing each other in a rush of emotions in what's likely to be the last time they'll see each other before they die. Many of the participants from ROK were war refugees who reunited with the siblings or infant children they left behind, many of whom are now in their 70s.

At their final lunch meeting on Wednesday before the ROK participants were to return home, 91-year-old Lee Ki-soon seemed lost for words as he quietly drank a glass of soju with his 75-year-old son from the DPRK.

Nearby, 61-year-old Ri Chol from the DPRK quietly wept as he grasped the hands of a 93-year-old grandmother, from ROK, whom he was only just getting to know.

"Don't cry, Chol," Kwon Seok, also in tears, told her grandson.

READ MORE: ROK, DPRK begin Red Cross talks to discuss family reunions

An Jong-sun, a 70-year-old from the DPRK, carefully fed food for her 100-year-old father. Han Shin-ja, 99, told her two daughters from the DPRK to eat a lot of chap-ssal, or sticky rice, for health. The daughters cried as Han told them she would always pray for their happiness and also for the future of her great-grandchildren she never got to see.

Cho Hye-do (right), 86, from the ROK, meets her sister Cho Sun-do (left), 89, from the DPRK accompanied by Cho Do-ja, their 75-year-old brother from the ROK, during the separated family reunion meeting at the Diamond Mountain resort in the DRPK, Aug 20, 2018. (KOERA POOL PHOTO VIA AP)

Some relatives exchanged their phone numbers and home addresses, although the Koreas since the end of the war have banned ordinary citizens from visiting relatives on the other side of the border or contacting them without permission.

Shin Jae-cheon, a 92-year-old from Gimpo, a border town in ROK, lamented that his 70-year-old sister lived about an hour's drive away all these years.

"It will take 40 minutes for me to drive there," Shin told his sister, Sin Kum-sun, who lives in Kaesong, a border town in the DPRK. "The bus that goes to my home is No 8 No 8 The No 8 bus," Shin added, expressing a wish for his sister to come visit one day.

ALSO READ: Tears, joy as Korean families separated by war reunite

Nearly 20,000 people have participated in 20 rounds of face-to-face reunions held between the countries since 2000. No one has had a second chance to see their relatives.

The latest reunions come after a three-year hiatus during which the DPRK conducted three nuclear tests and multiple missile launches that demonstrated a potential capability to strike the US mainland. 

Analysts say the DPRK still has some work to do before those missiles are perfected, however. 

DPRK leader Kim Jong-un has shifted toward diplomacy in 2018 and has met ROK President Moon Jae-in twice and also held a summit with President Donald Trump.

While Seoul has long pushed for more reunions, analysts say the DRPK is reluctant because of fears that increasing their frequency will loosen its authoritarian control and relinquish a coveted bargaining chip.

Lim Jong-sun (left), 57, from the DPRK, takes pictures with his relative Min Jae-hong, 44, from the ROK, during a separated family reunion meeting at the Diamond Mountain resort in the DPRK, Aug 21, 2018. (KOREA POOL PHOTO VIA AP)

Women from the DPRK carry lunch boxes to rooms where Korean families hold individual meetings at the Diamond Mountain resort in the DPRK, Aug 21, 2018. (KOREA POOL PHOTO VIA AP)

Participates from the DPRK arrive to meet their family members from the ROK during a separated family reunion meeting at the Diamond Mountain resort in the DPRK, Aug 21, 2018. (KOREA POOL PHOTO VIA AP)

Participates from the DPRK arrive to meet their family members from the ROK during a separated family reunion meeting at the Diamond Mountain resort in the DPRK, Aug 21, 2018. (KOREA POOL PHOTO VIA AP)

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