Reunions of war-split Korean kin are emotional

Clay Curtis
August 21, 2018

Lee Keum-seom said she lost track of her son, then aged four, and her husband in the panic of trying to flee, reported AFP.

The three-day reunion - the first for three years, and an emotionally charged experience - begins today and is scheduled to be held at the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea, following a rapid diplomatic thaw on the peninsula after this year's inter Korean summit.

Hugging the woman he'd last seen as a child, Mr Ri showed his mother a photo of her late husband, who had stayed behind in the North with him as a boy.

"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.

About 132,600 Koreans were listed as separated from their families by the end of July. "I really wish I could see them once more while I am alive, but I can't go to a reunion event again because I have already been once". Kim Dal-in, 92, asked his sister, Yu Dok, Reuters news agency reports.

"I think there's going to be a lot of difference, in the language, in the way of thinking, and the lifestyles we lived", Lee said.

Many participants are elderly, with 35 members of the South Korean group older than 90 and the oldest member at 101 years old.

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

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.

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In the last round of reunions in 2015, Kim Hyun-sook met her North Korean daughter and granddaughter, but felt they couldn't speak freely in front of her.

She could only say "Ah" and "When I fled." before choking up with tears. The South Korean government continues to say they defected voluntarily but the North claims they were kidnapped by Seoul's spy agency during the former conservative Park Geun-hye administration.

Out of almost 56,000 people who applied, a total of 534 South Korean individual were chosen to participate in this program. Another 3,700 exchanged video messages with their North Korean relatives under a short-lived communication program from 2005 to 2007.

More than 60 percent of those seeking reunions are over 80 years old, and are being accompanied on the bus trip north by their children and other relatives. "Whenever I saw pretty clothes, I always thought how cute they would look in them", she said.

The separated families are victims of a decades-long political gridlock between the neighbours, which has escalated over the past several years as Pyongyang rapidly advanced its weapons programmes.

They were the 89 lucky families selected from the more than 57,000 who had applied for the reunions, agreed to under the Panmunjom Declaration signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an historic summit earlier this year.

The Korean War of 1950-1953 left the peninsula divided and people on the northern side were unable to leave.

Moon, himself a member of a separated family from the North's eastern port city of Hungnam, said the reunion meetings should happen more regularly and include exchanges of visits and letters.

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