01:13 - Source: CNN
North and South Korea agree to family reunions

Story highlights

100 people from each side of the border will meet lost relatives

It's the second meeting in five years; others were canceled by North Korea

Families were separated during the Korean War, from 1950 to 1953

CNN  — 

Families split by the war and division of North and South Korea will reunite in a brief series of meetings next month, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a statement.

The Koreas have agreed to allow the reunion of 100 people from each country for six days from October 20 to 26. This will be the first meetings between divided families since February 2014.

The agreement was the result of talks between the embittered neighbors who only last month were involved in an exchange of fire across the border.

Last February, 200 North and South Koreans met over six days, though freedom was limited by North Korean workers who stood at tables, listening in to conversations.

Next month’s meetings are part of a deal struck between the Koreas to end last month’s military standoff.

Reunions based on lottery

North Korea has long used the reunions as a bargaining chip, regularly canceling the event to express its displeasure with the South.

The uncertainty is excruciating for family members from South Korea, who must enter a lottery for the chance to meet their relatives. It’s not clear how Pyongyang selects participants from its side of the border.

On September 15, each side will exchange the names of families who hope to meet. South Korea will offer a list of 250, so that the North can check if the people on it are still alive. The North will offer the South a list of 200, so it can do the same.

Both sides will talk again on October 5, with a final list to be decided on October 8, of just 100 people from each side.

Since 1988, almost 130,000 people from South Korea have registered to meet their families, according to the Unification Ministry’s website. However, only 66,000 of them are believed to be still alive. And, more than half of them are in their 80s or 90s, adding extra urgency to their efforts to see their long-lost relatives.

Emotional meetings

The chances of being chosen among the thousands of separated families are slim. Meetings are brief and emotional, as all parties know that it’s likely to be the last time they’ll meet.

Last February, Jang Chun was one of the 100 South Koreans who made the trip to North Korea’s Mount Kumgang resort. There, he met his younger sister and brother, whom he’d last seen as children living in North Korea.

A conscript during the Korean War, Jang was taken prisoner by United Nations forces in South Korea and never returned home.

Five years ago, he received a letter through the Red Cross, with photos of his brother and his family. “It was shocking,” Jang said. “I didn’t even know they were alive, although I had hoped they were. After reading the letter, I started crying, I was filled with both joy and sorrow.”

Jang’s family sobbed when they finally met, and vowed to somehow see each other again.

The Korean Peninsula was effectively split in two during the Korean War. The fighting ended with the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953, which created the heavily-guarded Demilitarized Zone. However, as no peace agreement was signed, technically the two sides are still at war.