North Korea to host emotional family reunions

Lester Mason
August 20, 2018

A group of elderly South Koreans has traveled to the border with North Korea ahead of family reunions with relatives in the North they've been separated from since the Korean War.

It comes as the rival Koreas boost reconciliation efforts amid a diplomatic push to resolve a standoff over North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Some of those selected for this year's reunions dropped out after learning that their parents or siblings had died and they could only meet more distant relatives whom they had never seen before.

The Korean War separated millions of people from their families.

The two countries have held 20 rounds of such exchanges since 2000, but Monday's reunions were the first in three years.

Crying and talking excitedly, the reunited relatives clasped one another and tried to bridge decades of separation through precious physical contact, pulling out pictures of absent relatives so they could be included in the happy occasion.

92, meets with her North Korean son Ri Sung Chol (right), 71, at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North's southeastern coast. After the war broke out, Park was told by a co-worker that his brother refused to flee to the South because he had a family in the North and was a surgeon in the North Korean army.

But as those who remember the war grow old, time is running out for many of them. Baik, who will meet his daughter-in-law and granddaughter, said he had packed clothes, underwear, 30 pairs of shoes, toothbrush and toothpaste as gifts.

A second round of reunions involving a further 83 families will take place from Friday to Sunday.

About 132,600 individuals were listed as separated families by the end of July.


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to the latest round of reunions during their first summit in April.

Because the conflict ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas have remained technically at war.

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.

She could only say "Ah" and "When I fled ..." before choking up with tears. The Unification Ministry estimates there are now about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.

But the reunions are often also tinged with frustration, with many North Koreans determined to publicly demonstrate their allegiance to the regime, out of genuine loyalty or just fear.

The reunions should be scaled up sharply, held regularly, and include exchanges of visits and letters, said Moon, himself a member of a separated family from the North's eastern port city of Hungnam.

I understand you have more personal stories to share.

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.

South Korean Ham Sung-chan (R), 93, hugs his North Korean brother Ham Dong Chan, 79, during a separated family reunion meeting on August 20, 2018.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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