Korean families reunite after being separated since 1950s

Lester Mason
August 20, 2018

A convoy of buses entered North Korea Monday carrying South Korean family members to meet relatives for the first time since they were separated almost 70 years ago.

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

The separated families are victims of a decades-long political gridlock since the 1950-53 war ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, with ties increasingly strained as Pyongyang rapidly stepped up its weapons programmes.

Since 2000 the two nations have held 20 rounds of reunions but time is running out for many ageing family members.

Among the relatives 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.

Kim Kwang-ho, 79, speaks in front of some gifts for his family members in North Korea during an interview at his home in Seoul, South Korea.

Jang and his older brother - who died 10 years ago - were the only ones from the family who fled their hometown in Hwanghae province to the South in 1951.

"I never imagined this day would come", Lee said.

Ninety-three families from both sides of the border were initially scheduled for a three-day gathering from Monday, but four South Korean members cancelled their trip to the North at the last minute due to health conditions, the Red Cross said.

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

The three-day reunion is the first for three years and follows a diplomatic thaw on the peninsula.

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, South Korea, August 19, 2018.

Past reunions between brothers and sisters, parents and children and husbands and wives have been extremely emotional experiences.

A total of 89 South Koreans will hold the first session of meetings with their families living in North Korea at a Mount Kumgang resort on the North's east coast at 3 p.m. The ministry estimates there are now about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.

But Seoul has failed to persuade Pyongyang to accept its long-standing call for more frequent reunions with more participants.

Over the next three days, the participants will spend only about 11 hours together, mostly under the watchful eyes of North Korean agents, with only three hours in private before they are separated once again on Wednesday, in all likelihood for the final time.

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.

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. While South Korea uses a computerized lottery to pick participants for the reunions, North Korea is believed to choose based on loyalty to its authoritarian leadership.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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