Korean Families Head to Bittersweet Reunions

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - A group of 82 elderly, frail South Koreans, two of them in ambulances, started a journey to the North Korean border to attend the first family reunion in more than three years for familes divided by the Korean war.

Korean Families Head to Bittersweet Reunions

Ten coaches, with half a dozen police vehicles as escorts, left the eastern port city of Sokcho at 8:30am local time on Thursday (2330 GMT Wednesday) for the heavily-militarised border 50kms away.

The departure was delayed as two female members of the group needed medical attention, and ended up being put in ambulances for the journey.

"Twenty-six of the group are over 90 years old, so we have to be very careful. It's more challenging than any other time," Yoo Jung-Kaeun, president of the South Korean Red Cross, told Al Jazeera.

"This is why there are so many more accompanying family members," she added.

She was referring to 58 family members who have joined the journey, emotionally and physically supporting the elderly travellers, of whom more than a dozen are in wheelchairs.

After crossing the world's last major Cold War frontier, there will be another 30km drive to a resort on Mount Kumgang - the venue for the reunion with 180 North Korean relatives they have not seen for more than 60 years.

"I think when I see her face, I won't believe it's real," Kim Dong-Bin, 81, said of the elder sister he left decades ago in the North's capital, Pyongyang.

"I wonder if I will be able to recognise her immediately? It's been so long," Kim said.

All of the South Koreans carried bags filled with gifts, ranging from basic medicines, to framed family photos and packets of instant noodles. Some brought bags of fresh fruit that they planned to offer in a joint prayer ceremony with their reunited siblings to their late parents.

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