Seoul (AsiaNews) - A group of about 400 South Koreans are traveling to North Korea, for the first family reunifications after 21 months. This is the 20th edition of the meetings, born as a "good will" gesture of on the part of the two governments but which have never been able to become institutional. Seoul has increased the number of doctors and ambulances following the delegation, given the rise in the average age of the participants.
The first round of meetings begins today and ends on October 23; the second, which involves about 250 people from the South, will instead take place October 24 to 26. The site chosen for the meetings is as always a resort on Mount Kumgang, on the northern side of the peninsula, known for its natural beauty and a destination for organized trips.
The eldest person taking part is a South Korean of 98. All members of the group received permission to bring gifts, mostly food, to family members in the North. The reunifications are among the most harrowing experience for Koreans: they remind them that once the two parts of the peninsula were united and that there were families that have been t9orn apart by war and division, unable to see, phone, or write each other for decades.
To participate, citizens must prove that they have a relative still living across the border and then register with the South Korean Unification Ministry: in the beginning were 130 thousand, today there are just over 66 thousand.
From this macro-list, the Seoul government prepares various lists in order of seniority and degree of kinship: the priority is given to those who are older - but can still bear the physical and mental stress that these reunifications involve - and who has close relatives such as children or brothers and sisters. Given these criteria, they arrive at a list of about a thousand names, and the ministry relies on a computer during a televised lottery to randomly select names that will be included in reunification.
In addition there are a number of "reservations", which take over in the event of unforeseen marches back last time: who participates is then excluded from the lists. Unknown with methods of selection applied by Pyongyang and statistics on family members of the North.
From the historic inter-Korean summit in 2000 - which was to make institutional - family reunification were held in 19 editions face to face, plus seven in video conference. Only 18,800 families were able to meet.