Korean families separated by war reunite after 65 years

Pauline Gross
August 21, 2018

It was their first meeting since they were driven apart during the turmoil of the 1950-53 Korean War.

The weeklong event, the first of its kind in almost three years, was arranged as the rival Koreas boost reconciliation efforts amid a diplomatic push to resolve a standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

"What shall I ask?" she said.

"I haven't slept a wink since being selected for this family reunion", Byung-oh said as he met his sister, according to brief pool reports supplied by South Korean reporters.

Most of the participants in the reunions are in their 70s or older and are eager to see their loved ones once more before they die.

"I stayed alive to meet you, oppa [older brother]", Yu-dok said, as she whipped out a school graduation photo of him.

"How are you so old?"

The older man stared at the picture silently, deep in thought, while his North Korean sister quietly wiped tears from her eyes.

"I never imagined this day would come", she told AFP.

"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", South Korean President Moon Jae-in told a meeting with presidential secretaries Monday.

From Friday to Sunday, 83 North Koreans will also be reunited with the families they have found alive in the South at the resort.

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But Jang Hae-won, 89, said he would meet his nephew and niece to reconnect with his parents who passed away in the North and offer his brother's children a glimpse of their father's life.

Not knowing their separation would be permanent, she had left them behind in the North during the war while fleeing south with her third and youngest daughter.

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

The 89 elderly South Koreans, dressed in their best suits in the scorching sun, hobbled one by one to 14 coaches in Sokcho - wheelchairs alongside the vehicles - some excited while others were still in disbelief, before the convoy set off with a police escort.

"Oh brother, it will be great when reunification happens", she said. "Let's live together even at least one minute after unification before we die", the woman said tearfully.

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 under a short-lived communication program from 2005 to 2007.

"I'm over 90 so I don't know when I am going to die", Moon Hyun-sook told Reuters. She had travelled from the South to see them.

The reunions are resuming after a three-year hiatus as the North accelerated its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and relations worsened.

"Sang Chol!" 92-year-old Lee Keum-seom exclaimed, as she fell into her long lost son's arms at a holiday resort in North Korea Monday.

Thousands of South Korean families were split during the Korean War, with family members estranged for decades - nearly 60,000 people had applied for the reunion.

For Lee Jong-shik, 81, Monday's reunion was a hard-won second chance to track down his younger brother, Ri Chong Song, after the failure of a 2009 effort when a different individual showed up, to the dismay of the family from the South. "As a member of a divided family myself, I sympathize deeply with that sadness and pain".

Other reports by GizPress

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