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Latest update : 2009-09-26

A group of elderly South Koreans cross the heavily armed demilitarized zone between the communist North and the South on Saturday to meet family members separated during the 1950s war that divided the Korean peninsula.

REUTERS - Ninety-seven South Koreans cross a heavily armed border on Saturday to meet family members in the communist North in fleeting reunions arranged by the rivals split by war and ideology more than half a century ago.

The two Koreas began reunions in 2000 for the hundreds of thousands of divided families but the events have been on hold for about two years due to political tension, denying many Koreans their dying wish to see relatives they left behind.

Most of the hundreds of thousands of South Koreans looking for lost family members in the North are 70 or older, meaning time is running out.

Some in the South Korean group said the meetings would give them a chance at last to say goodbye.

"I'll probably tell them, 'You are alive. How good it would have been if sister was alive'," a tearful Lee Sun-ok said in an interview at her home in Seoul as she remembered her older and now deceased sister. She will be reunited with a brother and two sisters.

"I thought maybe when the world gets turned upside down, I might get back to see them."

Destitute North Korea, stung by U.N. sanctions triggered by nuclear and missile tests, has in recent months reached out to the South, once a major aid donor, proposing renewed business ties and resuming the emotionally charged reunions.

The 97 South Koreans will be reunited with 240 North Korean sons and daughters, brothers and sisters in the three-day event held at the Morth's resort of Mount Kumgang just miles from the border on the peninsula's east coast.

Ninety-nine North Koreans who sought relatives in the South will follow in another three days of reunions meeting 449 who will travel from the South.

There have been 16 rounds of family reunions for about 16,000 people from both the South and the North since they began in 2000 after a landmark summit between the rivals' leaders that year that led to rapid warming of ties.

The two have also set up closed-circuit television links for video reunions.

The reunions were supposed to be a show of goodwill on the part of both sides but have been held hostage to the whims of North Korea, which has suspended them in fits of anger and to increase pressure on Seoul to bend to its demands.

Thousands of South Koreans who applied to take part in reunions when the chance was first offered about a decade ago have died before their wish could be granted.

Many who who were split from family before and during the 1950-53 Korean war believed the separation would be temporary but decades of Cold War hostility meant they were not only unable to meet, but unable to speak or write to one another, not knowing whether their loved ones were alive.

Date created : 2009-09-26