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Wednesday, 5 July, 2000, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
Korea family reunion lottery
Park Yun-dam, 86, who lived in North Korea before the war
People apply to see relatives they have not seen for 50 years
A shortlist of South Korean candidates for possible family reunions with loved ones in the North has been selected through a computer draw.

North and South Korea will each send 100 people to the other side on 15 August for four-day visits to relatives they have not seen for half a century.

Korean map

South Korea's Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu and Red Cross President Chung Won-shik clicked a computer mouse together to start a program that randomly selected 400 out of 75,000 registered names.

The list will eventually be whittled down to 100 people.

It is expected that some elderly candidates on the list of 400 will discover their loved ones have died.

And others may be too frail to take the emotional strain of seeing family members for the first time after 50 years' separation.

Elderly

Among those attending Wednesday's draw was Park Yoon-sung, 85, who has not seen his two younger brothers since leaving his hometown in the North in 1947.

The Red Cross' Chung Won-shik [L] and Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu
The shortlisted names were selected by computer

"I didn't even dream of something like this happening," he said of the computer lottery.

"I miss [my brothers] so much although I might not even recognise them since we have been separated for half a century."

South Korean officials say they will give top priority to people over 70 with immediate blood ties to North Koreans.

They said 23% of the applicants were over 80.

Selected candidates will go through a medical check-up to make sure they can endure the physical and emotional stress of the journey to Pyongyang.

After the list is whittled down to 200, the names will be handed over to North Korea, which will identify those whose families are dead or cannot be found.

Summit

The family reunion deal stemmed from an agreement struck by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and the North's leader Kim Jong-il during last month's historic summit to ease hostilities on the Korean peninsula.

Korean man stares across border
Families have been divided for half a century

About 1.2 million people fled North Korea during the 1950-53 war and settled in the South.

The border is still heavily fortified and there is no mail or telephone communication between the countries.

South Korea's Unification Ministry began registering separated family members in the mid-1980s.

In the first official family reunions in 1985, 50 people from each side crossed the border for visits with relatives. Efforts to arrange more reunions failed because of political tensions.

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See also:

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