|South Korean Red Cross president Yoo Jong-keun (right) takes part in a draw for selecting South Koreans to be reunited with their families in North Korea next month around the Chuseok holidays. (Yonhap News)|
The South Korean Red Cross on Saturday announced a list of 500 candidates to visit their family living in the North around the Chuseok holiday in a reunion that marks the first in nearly three years.
The candidates were chosen randomly based on a computerized draw.
Those who were not selected headed back home with heavy hearts, the Red Cross officials said, as time is running out for the ageing divided families.
The 500 will be narrowed to around 250 by Thursday through related procedures which include medical -ups.
The final number of people who will be permitted to see their families in North Korea is 100, as agreed by the government on Friday.
The two Koreas have said they would hold the reunions on Sept. 25-30 for families that were separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. The venue will be Mount Geumgangsan resort in North Korea.
“In the past, it took up to 50 days to prepare for a family reunion, but this time around, we only have one month left,” said Ko Kyung-suk, secretary general of the Korean Red Cross.
This tight schedule was why the organization hurried to select the candidates over the weekend.
As of Friday, there were around 72,000 South Koreans with family in the North who previously applied for the reunion.
The two Koreas agreed Friday during a meeting at the border village of Panmunjeom to hold reunions of separated families at the North’s Mount Geumgangsan resort in late September in the latest sign of easing tensions on the peninsula.
“The two sides also tentatively agreed to push for an additional reunion event in November,” said Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye first proposed the family reunions during her Liberation Day speech on Aug. 15, a day after the two Koreas reached a landmark pact to reopen the shuttered Gaesong Industrial Complex that has been closed since early April.
Park proposed for the reunions to occur on or near the Chuseok holiday -- Korean Thanksgiving -- which falls on Sept. 19 of this year.
The two Koreas held the first family reunion event in 1985, and after a 15-year hiatus they arranged 18 meetings from 2000 through 2010 that allowed 3,829 families to meet in person and 557 via video link.
By Kim Ji-hyun and news reports