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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

South Koreans gather ahead of reunions with relatives in North Korea

Three-day reunion comes after a rapid diplomatic thaw on the peninsula

Dozens of elderly and frail South Koreans gathered excitedly on Sunday on the eve of their first meeting for nearly seven decades with family members in North Korea.

The three-day reunion - the first for three years - begins on Monday at the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea, following a rapid diplomatic thaw on the peninsula.

Millions of people were swept apart by the 1950-53 Korean War, which divided brothers and sisters, parents and children and husband and wives and perpetuated the division of the peninsula.

Among them was Lee Keum-seom, now a tiny and frail 92. She was waiting to see her son for the first time since she left him behind in the turmoil of war.

She lost her husband and four-year-old son as their family fled, and boarded a ferry headed for the South with only her infant daughter - who was accompanying her to the reunion.

The son is now 71 and Lee has been told that he will bring his daughter-in-law to the meeting.

"I don't know what I'm feeling, whether it's good or bad," Lee said. "I don't know if this is real or a dream."

She raised seven children after remarrying in South Korea but always worried about the son she left in the North. Now there are many questions to ask.

Since 2000 the two nations have held 20 rounds of reunions but time is running out for many ageing family members.

More than 130,000 Southerners have signed up for a reunion since the events began but most of them have since died. Most of those still waiting are over 80 and the oldest participant this year is 101.

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