SEOUL - A CONVOY of buses carrying 435 South Koreans crossed into North Korea on Saturday for a brief reunion with relatives over the heavily fortified border, despite tensions after an exchange of fire.

The reunions, which give divided families the first chance to see one another in six decades, start mid-afternoon at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North's south-eastern coast, near the border.

North and South Korean troops on Friday briefly exchanged fire across the border, heightening tensions before next month's G-20 summit of world leaders in Seoul. No casualties were reported.

'The reunions will go ahead as scheduled despite the firing,' spokesman Lee Jong Joo of the Unification Ministry told AFP. The South Koreans, from 97 families, will spend three days with 97 relatives in North Korea, from whom they have been separated by war six decades ago.

Mr Lee Moon Yeong, in his 70s, said he had spent a sleepless night in anticipation of seeing one of his brothers.

He had previously suspected the brother might have been killed in action after joining the North Korean army during the Korean War. Mr Lee's second brother died in 1952 while fighting as a South Korean soldier.

Following the Saturday-Monday reunions, another batch of 96 South Koreans will be reunited with 207 North Koreans from Wednesday to Friday at the same place. The one-off reunions, a first since September last year, come despite icy inter-Korean ties in the aftermath of the North's alleged torpedoing of a South Korean warship, for which the North angrily denies responsibility.

S.Koreans cross into N.Korea