Friday, 22 February, 2019

Korean reunions: Families divided by war meet in North

North Korea to host emotional family reunions 'I bought everything because it's my last time': South Korean relatives head for family reunions in North
Leonard Rios | 21 August, 2018, 17:58

With tears and cries, dozens of elderly and frail South and North Korean family members met on Monday for the first time since the peninsula and their relationships were torn apart by war almost 70 years ago. North Korean leader Kim Jon Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed in April to resume holding the family visits, as part of efforts to improve diplomatic relations.

A group of mostly elderly South Koreans travelled to a tourist resort in the North for the event, the first such reunion for three years.

The pain felt by the families split by the Korean War is one of the most visible legacies of the conflict which, 68 years after it began, still hasn't technically ended.

"How are you so old?"

Before she left for the bus trip north on Monday, Lee told CNN she had prayed for her son to have a long life so the pair could reunite.

Dressed in the traditional Korean hanbok dress, siblings Kim Gyong Sil, 72, and Gyong Yong, 71, anxiously awaited their 99-year-old mother Han Shin-ja.

"When I fled home in the war..." were the only words Han, overcome with emotion, could utter. After the Korean War, the world's most heavily militarized border formally divided the Korean Peninsula, separating millions.

These brief meetings are likely to be the last and only time many will see each other.

South Korean Ham Sung-chan (R), 93, hugs his North Korean brother Ham Dong Chan (L), 79, during a separated family reunion meeting at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North's southeastern coast on August 20, 2018.

During his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in June, Mr. Kim pledged to abandon his country's nuclear programmes if Washington provided security guarantees, but the two sides have since struggled to agree on how to reach that goal. In total, nearly 300 members of 98 families were able to reconnect in North Korea.

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"Imagine 73 years long without knowing whether their family members are still alive or passed away - no news at all".

"Expanding and accelerating family reunions is a top priority".

The North threatened to walk away if Seoul continued to refuse to repatriate 12 North Korean restaurant workers who defected to the South in mysterious circumstances in 2016.

Another 337 South Koreans will be granted reunions later this week.

Before leaving for North Korea, Lee said she wanted to ask her son "how he grew up without his mom and how his father raised him".

Around 132,600 individuals are listed as separated families. Of the 57,000 survivors, 41.2 percent are in their 80s and 21.4 percent are in their 90s, according to government data.

Some relatives couldn't even recognise each other, but that wasn't a problem for 88-year-old Kim Byung-oh and his 81-year-old North Korean sister Kim Soon-ok who were separated while still at school.

Several doctors and nurses are travelling with the group to set up an emergency medical centre for the elderly participants. "Ahead of the reunions, we are thoroughly checking their health". South Koreans have prepared gifts for their relatives, often basic necessities such as winter jackets, socks, underwear, medicine, toothpaste and food.

Moon Hyun-sook, 91, said she put together clothes, cosmetics and medicine for her two sisters, younger than she is by 12 and 26 years.

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