Brief Korean reunions bring tears for separated families

Leroy Wright
August 20, 2018

The weeklong event, the first of its kind in almost three years, was arranged as the rival Koreas boost reconciliation efforts amid a diplomatic push to resolve a standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Most of those taking part are elderly people who are eager to see their loved ones once more before they die.

Thousands of families have been divided after the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula still in a technical state of war.

The brief reunions, which will last only 11 hours, are the first in three years, and took place in the North's tourist resort on Mount Kumgang after the two Koreas renewed exchanges this year following a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes.

Past reunions have produced powerful images of elderly Koreans crying, embracing and caressing each other.

Almost 20,000 people have participated in 20 rounds of face-to-face reunions held between the countries since 2000.

Numerous family members brought gifts for their North Korean relatives. None of them had a second chance to see or talk with their relatives.

But Jang Hae-won, 89, who fled their hometown in Hwanghae province along with his older brother, said he would meet his nephew and niece to offer them a glimpse of their father's life.

After graduating from a Seoul university, Park's brother settled in the North Korean coastal town of Wonsan as a dentist in 1946.

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The oldest attendee is a 101-year-old man from the South, who is meeting his North Korean daughter-in-law and granddaughter, Yonhap reported. Lee Keum-seom asked her son Ri Sang Chol during their long-awaited encounter at the North's Diamond Mountain resort.

"When I fled home in the war.", Han said, faltering as she choked with emotion and left her sentence incomplete.

After 65 years of separation, hundreds of relatives have been reunited for just a few hours as North and South Korea hold their first reunion in three years.

But after a rapid diplomatic thaw the North's leader Kim Jong-un and the South's President Moon Jae-in agreed to restart them at their first summit in April in the DMZ.

"It is a shame for both governments in the South and the North that numerous families have passed away without knowing whether or not their lost relatives were alive", he said. The ministry estimates there are now about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.

The government has dispatched around 30 medical and emergency staff to the venue in consideration of most of the participants in the reunion event are elderly.

The limited number of reunions can not meet the demands of divided family members, who are now mostly in their 80s and 90s, South Korean officials say.

Since 1988, more than 132,000 people have registered with the Red Cross in South Korea for the reunion programme.

Analysts say North Korea sees the reunions as an important bargaining chip and doesn't want them expanded because they give its people better awareness of the outside world.

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