Families Separated Since Korean War Reunite In North Korea

Minnie Murray
August 21, 2018

It was their first meeting since they were driven apart during the turmoil of the 1950-53 Korean War. Lee, for example, asked her son how many children he had. "Do you have a son?"

There were emotional scenes as the reunions took place in the North's Diamond Resort, as the rival Koreas step up reconciliation efforts.

"Uncles, take my deep bow", said Seo Soon-gyo (55), as her 87-year-old father, Seo Jin-ho, met with two younger brothers, Chan Ho and Won Ho.

They will only have three hours in private - during a meeting held in the rooms of the South Korean participants - before the families are separated once again on Wednesday - in all likelihood for a final time.

More than 130,000 South Koreans have signed up for a reunion since the events began but a lot of them have since died.

"I'm over 90 so I don't know when I am going to die".

"How are you so old?" Kim Dal-in, 92, quipped as he met his younger sister, Yu-dok, 85.

"When I fled home in the war..." were the only words Han, overcome with emotion, could utter.

Han Shin-ja, a 99-year-old South Korean woman, was at a loss for words after she reunited with her two North Korean daughters, both in their early 70s.

"When I fled during the war." she began, choking back tears as if she were about to apologise for leaving them behind.

"Whenever I saw pretty clothes, I always thought how cute they would look in them", she said.

The oldest South Korean participating in the latest gathering is 101 years old.

Amid all the joy and happy scenes on both sides of the border this week, this is the reality for most whose families remain split by the Korean War.

The two countries have held 20 rounds of such exchanges since 2000, but Monday's reunions were the first in three years. Another 3,700 exchanged video messages with their North Korean relatives.

About 330 South Koreans from 89 families, many in wheelchairs, embraced 185 separated relatives from the North with tears, joy and disbelief.

The separated families are victims of a decades-long standoff between the neighbors, which has escalated over the past several years as Pyongyang rapidly advanced its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

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.

The reunions were included in the Panmunjom Declaration signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on April 27, in which the countries agreed to "endeavor to swiftly resolve the humanitarian issues that resulted from the division of the nation" and "proceed with reunion programs for the separated families" on the occasion of the August 15 Liberation Day, when a then-unified Korea gained independence from Japan's colonial rule in 1945.

92, meets with her North Korean son Ri Sung Chol (right), 71, at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North's southeastern coast.

The North Koreans have dropped some hints that more reunifications would be possible if the United States, South Korea, and other interested parties work out a deal to formally end the Korean War. And time is running out, with many of them aged 80 or older.

In a meeting with close aides at the Blue House on Monday, Moon stressed the need to hold more reunions and broaden their scale.

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