SEOUL, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Inter-Korea family reunions began Tuesday as busloads of South Korean senior citizens arrived in the Mount Kumgang tourist region of North Korea.
The elderly men and women, 400 in total, crossed the Korean demilitarized zone to be united with 140 of their North Korean relatives, The Guardian reported. The candidates were picked by computerized lottery among 65,000 applicants on a waiting list, and arrived with coats, long underwear, medicine and money to give to their relatives in the North.
A South Korean Unification Ministry official has said the reunion would consist of two parts. From Oct. 20-22, selected North Koreans would meet with their separated families in the Mount Kumgang area, and from Oct. 24-26 South Koreans would spend time with their families residing in the North. In the second round of meetings, 250 South Koreans and about 190 North Korean relatives would meet near Mount Kumgang.
For South Koreans who have been separated from their families for more than six decades, the prospect of reunion was overwhelming.
Lee Ok-yeon, 88, who was to see her husband for the first time in 65 years, told South Korean reporters that she was not sure whether she was in "a dream or a reality," when she first heard she had been selected for the reunions. Lee has been living in the same house her husband, who now lives in the North, built and shared as newlyweds.
Many of the divided Koreans are in their 80s and 90s, and understand this is their last chance to see their relatives in the North. A handful of travelers suffer from health problems, and two ambulances escorted those who require medical treatment.
The 1950-53 Korean War separated a large number of families, and the war was prolonged when China, North Korea's ally, intervened and fought back the allied troops in dozens of skirmishes.
China, however, delivered a congratulatory message to both North and South on Tuesday, and Beijing's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China welcomes improved relations between Seoul and Pyongyang.
"China, a friendly neighbor, hopes North and South Korea strengthens dialogue and move toward cooperation and reconciliation," Hua said, according to South Korean newspaper Maeil Business.