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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The two Koreas on Monday afternoon began five days of reunions of families separated by the Korean War at the DPRK’s Mount Kumgang resort, the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced.
The reunions are the first of their kind since October 2015, and the 21st to take place since 2000.
A total of 89 South Korean nationals will meet family members from North Korea at the first round of meetings from Monday to Wednesday.
The oldest participant among them is the 101-year Baek Seong-gyu, who is set to meet his daughter-in-law and granddaughter.
A two hour group meeting started at 1500 local time, to be followed by a banquet hosted by the North.
During the three days of reunions, the South Koreans are scheduled to be reunited with their North Korean families and relatives six times for a total of 11 hours, including in a three-hour private meeting tomorrow.
The South Korean participants on Sunday gathered in Sokcho city on the ROK’s northeast coast, were briefed on the reunion event, and received a medical check-up before their departure for the North this morning.
Buses carrying 197 South Koreans crossed the inter-Korean border on the eastern coast and arrived at the Mount Kumgang resort at 1255 local time, the Ministry of Unification (MOU) confirmed to media.
April’s Panmunjom Declaration saw the two Koreas agree to proceed with reunions of divided families on the occasion of National Liberation Day, which fails on August 15.
Seoul and Pyongyang then agreed on logistics for the meetings at Red Cross talks in June.
Earlier in the month Seoul and Pyongyang shared their final lists of 93 South Korean and 88 North Korean participants for the first and second round of the reunions at the truce village of Panmunjom.
Four South Koreans reportedly withdrew from the meeting with North Korean relatives, citing health issues and other factors.
Among the original 93 South Korean applicants, 37.6% are over 90 and 49.5% are in their 80s.
Only 12.9% are below the age of 80 years old.
<2018년 8.15계기 이산가족 상봉행사 D-day>
오늘 8월 20일(월) 이산가족 방문단은 그리운 가족을 만나기 위해 속초를 떠나 금강산으로 향했습니다.
이산가족 방문단은 오후 12시 30분에 도착해서 휴식을 취한 뒤 꿈에 그리던 가족들과 첫 단체상봉을 가지게 됩니다. pic.twitter.com/VlN8pcCOnl
— 통일부 (@uni_kr) August 20, 2018
Data provided by the unification ministry suggests that 54.8% will be meeting with lineal family members (brothers, sisters, children, etc).
At the second round of reunions between Friday and Sunday, a total of 83 North Koreans will meet South Korean families, the unification ministry said.
A total of 337 ROK nationals will visit the North in total.
As of the end of July, 132,603 people had registered as members of divided families, with 75,741 of them (57.1%) now deceased – a number that grew by 316 in the past several weeks.
A total of 23,425 and 12,146 of those remaining are over 80 and 90, respectively.
972 North and South Koreans from 186 families participated in 2015’s reunion event, according to statistics provided by the unification ministry.
Fewer than a thousand people have participated in the reunion event since 2010, with a total of 888, 886, and 813 people from 195, 191, and 170 families meeting relatives in the North at reunions in 2009, 2010, and 2014.
Since 2000, 19,771 and 3748 Koreans have been reunited with family members through 20 reunion events and seven video conferences.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Ministry of Unification (MOU) Twitter