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Koreans separated for more than 50 years reunite

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[September 26, 2009]  SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Hundreds of Korean families separated for more than half a century by the division of the Korean peninsula were reunited Saturday amid signs of renewed reconciliation between the two Koreas.

InsuranceKim Ki-sung, an 82-year-old South Korean, met his son and daughter whom he left behind in North Korea in 1951 when U.S.-led U.N. troops retreated during the Korean War.

"I am sorry for not taking you when I fled," Kim told his children in the emotional reunion, according to reports in local media. No foreign journalists were invited to the reunions at the Diamond Mountain resort on North Korea's east coast.

His son, Kim Jung-hyun, brought five medals he received from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the reports said. His sister said he received the medals "because he worked hard since he grew up without a father."

Kim Ki-sung was among more than 120 South Koreans, most in their 70s or 80s, who traveled by bus to the scenic resort for the three-day reunion.

Millions of families remain separated following the Korean peninsula's division in 1945 and the ensuing Korean War, which ended with an armistice in 1953, not a peace treaty.

There are no mail, telephone or e-mail exchanges between ordinary citizens from the two Koreas. They are unable to travel to the other half of the peninsula without government approval.


Family reunions began in 2000 following a landmark inter-Korean summit, but were halted by North Korea after conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office last year with a get-tough policy of holding the North accountable to its nuclear disarmament pledges.

The last reunions were held in October 2007.

North Korea agreed last month to resume the reunions as part of moves to reach out to South Korea and the United States after months of tension over its nuclear and missile programs.

So far, more than 16,200 Koreans have held temporary face-to-face reunions with relatives. About 3,740 others have seen relatives in video reunions.

A second group of reunions will begin Tuesday. It is unclear when they may be held again.

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The reunions come amid growing international pressure on North Korea's communist government to return to stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

North Korea quit the six-nation talks in April to protest world criticism of a rocket launch. But leader Kim Jong Il recently reportedly expressed a willingness to hold "bilateral and multilateral talks," indicating the North could rejoin the nuclear negotiations, which involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

President Barack Obama told a U.N. General Assembly session Wednesday that North Korea "must be held accountable" if it continues to put its pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of international security.

The reunions are a highly emotional issue for Koreans. Most of those applying for the chance to see their long-lost loved ones are elderly and are eager for a reunion before they die.

Of 127,400 South Koreans who have applied since 1988, nearly 40,000 have already died, according to South Korea's Red Cross.

South Korea wants to stage more family reunions on a regular basis and allow divided families to confirm whether their relatives are still alive, but the North has balked at the request.

[Associated Press; By KWANG-TAE KIM]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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