More than 100 South Koreans will gather at a resort on the country's east coast on Wednesday as part of preparations for their first reunions with their North Korean relatives since the 1950-53 Korean War, officials said.
The move comes days after the rival Koreas held rare high-level talks and agreed to hold the reunions at Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort on the North's east coast, from Feb. 20-25.
The upcoming reunions, the first since late 2010, come amid lingering tensions over South Korea's upcoming joint military exercises with the United States.
The North has denounced the annual military exercises as a rehearsal for invasion. Still, Seoul and Washington are set to begin the exercises on Monday to heighten their defense posture against possible provocations from North Korea.
A total of 83 elderly South Koreans, accompanied by 59 family members, are set to arrive in the resort in the east coastal city of Sokcho later in the day where they will go through medical checkups and receive training on do's and don'ts for their trip to the North, according to the officials of the unification ministry.
On Thursday, the South Koreans will leave for Mount Kumgang by bus on an inter-Korean road for the reunions with 180 North Korean relatives that will last until Saturday, in the first stage of the reunions, they said.
On Sunday, about 360 other South Koreans plan to hold a second round of reunions with 88 North Korean relatives in the North's resort before they return home on Tuesday.
South Korea has repeatedly called for frequent family reunions with North Korea. South Korea has also built a family reunion center on Mount Kumgang, just north of the heavily fortified border.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has instructed officials to come up with fundamental measures for frequent family reunions between the two Koreas.
Millions of Koreans remain separated since the Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.
The family reunions are a pressing humanitarian issue on the divided peninsula, as most of the separated family members are in their 70s and 80s, and wish to see their long-lost relatives before they die.
More than 129,200 South Koreans have applied for temporary reunions with their family members and relatives in North Korea since 1988, according to government data. Among them, more than 57,700 people, or 44.7 percent of the applicants, have died, including 3,841 people who died last year, according to the data.
Still, the North has balked at the idea of staging frequent family reunions. (Yonhap)