Families separated by Korean War allowed brief reunions in the North

Frederick Owens
August 21, 2018

Among the group was Lee Keum-seom, now a tiny and frail 92, who was to see her son for the first time since she and her infant daughter were separated from him and her husband as they fled.

A man selected as a participant for a reunion shows pictures of his deceased mother and little brothers living in North Korea, at a hotel used as a waiting place in Sokcho, Gangwon Province, Aug. 19.

The South Korean families, 89 applicants usually with two or three relatives accompanying them, were bused across the border on Monday morning to the North Korean resort of Mount Kumgang.

About 132,600 Koreans were listed as separated from their families by the end of July.

The second round will run from Friday to Sunday, with 83 North Koreans expecting to reunite with their family members from the South.

Kim Sun Ok, an 81-year-old North Korean woman, said she found that she and her 88-year-old brother from South Korea resembled each other a great deal.

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. Kim Dal-in, 92, asked his sister, Yu Dok, after gazing at her briefly in silence. War refugee parents were finally able to see their own children for the first time after more than six decades. These days, most separated families have no word on whether their long-lost relatives are still alive because their governments bar their citizens from visiting each other across the border or even exchanging phone calls, letters and email. More than 131,000 people are registered as separated family members in South Korea, according to the government.

Before leaving for the meeting, Lee told AFP: "I never imagined this day would come".

But as those who remember the war grow old, time is running out.

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"Expanding and accelerating family reunions is a top priority among humanitarian projects to be carried out by the two Koreas".

Unofficial reunions can cost about $1500 (NZ$2252), but the process can be faster and is less dependent on the political climate between North and South.

For many, it's a chance for a final meeting with parents or children living inside the secretive dictatorship.

Almost 300 people separated from close relatives by the Korean War gathered in North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort for their first reunions in more than six decades, which are also likely to be their last.

"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. This year's reunion marks the 21st program, and many hope to arrange more periodic reunions to bring families together before it is too late.

Moon attended a 2004 reunion to meet his aunt.

Officially ending the war was a key element of the Panmunjom Declaration, and both North and South have said they are continuing to work towards that goal, even as negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington appear to have stalled.

Past reunions have produced powerful images of elderly Koreans crying, embracing and caressing each other. Trump then met Kim in Singapore in June, although there has since been little indication that the North Koreans are genuinely willing to abandon their nuclear program.

Other reports by LeisureTravelAid

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