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German wife hopes to see long-lost North Korean husband

A German woman who was separated from her North Korean husband more than 40 years ago appealed Thursday to leaders of both Koreas to allow the couple to see each other again.

Renate Hong, 70, traveled to Seoul with letters to South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to press her case, saying she hoped the two could raise the issue when they meet for a summit in early October.

"We never imagined that we would be separated to this day," she wrote of her husband, now married with children in the North, in the letters to both leaders.

Hong last saw her husband, Hong Ok Gun, in April 1961 after he was ordered back to his homeland by the government while Renate was pregnant with the couple's second son. The two married in February 1960 while he was studying chemistry in Renate's hometown of Jena in then-East Germany, and had their first son in June 1960.

The two corresponded after their separation before the letters stopped in 1963. One of Ok Gun's last notes contained the only present he was able to send: a single lotus flower petal, which Renate has carefully preserved as a lasting symbol of their love.

After years not knowing her husband's fate, Renate said she was informed earlier this year by the German Red Cross and Foreign Ministry that 73-year-old Ok Gun was alive in the North Korean city of Hamhung with a new family.

"I always realized he would have a family in North Korea - why should he live alone?" Renate told foreign journalists. "But the news that he was married and had children was also a bit painful."

She said she held nothing against the North Korean government for forcing the couple apart.

"I don't want to talk about politics, I just want my sons to know their father," she said.

Hong met Wednesday with officials from South Korea's Red Cross Society, which arranges reunions of Koreans who have been split by the border dividing the peninsula.

However, the Red Cross said it would not be able to help her because she was not South Korean, although it suggested something could be arranged if both the German and North Korean governments agreed. Berlin and Pyongyang have diplomatic relations.