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Half a century apart, Koreans meet briefly at border reunions

North Korea, in a sign of a thaw, allowed famliies split by the border to visit each other at a North Korean site in September.

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Then, after 18 months of mounting confrontation with the South, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il just as abruptly agreed to another round of visits. The curtain began to lift in August, when former US President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang on an "unofficial visit," ostensibly to bring home two American journalists who had been held for 140 days since North Korean soldiers grabbed them along the Tumen River border with China. Mr. Clinton met with Mr. Kim and briefed President Barack Obama when he got back. The switch may reflect the North's need to open its doors slightly while looking for dialogue with the US – as well as aid and trade to help its dilapidated economy.

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'I've been missing you even in my dreams'

Many South Koreans doubt the North will give up its nuclear program, as demanded by the UN Security Council. But no one questioned the emotions as visits resumed in late September, with 97 men and women gathering here to ride North Korean buses to Kumgang. First, 100 South Koreans who had fled from North Korea saw all the relatives the North said it could find – more than 200. Then, for three days, 400-plus South Koreans crossed the border to see 100 North Koreans whom the North said had chosen to leave the South.

The sudden cries and frantic efforts at recognition epitomized the legacy of a war that cost more than 2 million lives and simmers on in a state of truce. The TV report showed a 75-year-old woman weeping, asking her mother, in her 90s, "Are you all right?" then wiping away her mother's tears. The daughter, a teen when she fled south, told her mother, "I've been missing you even in my dreams." Her mother responded, "I'm happy beyond words; it's so good I have lived to see my daughter."

But one-third of the 120,000 South Koreans who applied to see relatives in the North have since died, and the death rate is increasing by several thousand a year. There has been no resumption of mail, and telephone contact is not even up for discussion.

President Obama made clear at the UN General Assembly that the US remains firm on sanctions. And South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak has been just as firm, presenting a "grand bargain" that requires North Korea to give up its nuclear program. North Korea has warned the US it will conduct more nuclear tests and has denounced Lee's plan as "ridiculous."