Published: Tue, August 21, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

Korean families separated by war meet after 65 years

Korean families separated by war meet after 65 years

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.

Lee Geum-seom, 92, wailed as she laid eyes upon her son, Ri Sang-chol, 71, for the first time in over 60 years, pulling him to her chest as she cried, "Sang-chol!"

A second round of reunions involving a further 83 families will take place from Friday to Sunday. Some experts say warming inter-Korean relations could suffer a setback if the North refuses to accept a US -led call for complete nuclear disarmament, and that is expected to figure into another inter-Korean summit set for next month in Pyongyang.

The reunions were included in the Panmunjom Declaration signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on April 27, in which the countries agreed to "endeavor to swiftly resolve the humanitarian issues that resulted from the division of the nation" and "proceed with reunion programs for the separated families" on the occasion of the August 15 Liberation Day, when a then-unified Korea gained independence from Japan's colonial rule in 1945.

Sisters Kim Gyong-sil, 72, and Kim Gyong-yong, 71, wore traditional dress to meet their 99-year-old mother, Han Shin-ja. War refugee parents were finally able to see their own children for the first time after more than six decades.

"I signed up for a reunion 30 years ago but have yet to be picked for one", 80-year-old Nam Gyu-hyeong told Al Jazeera earlier this year.

But North Korea's suspicion of any outside influence means that many tens of thousands more have been denied the chance to meet: more than 130,000 South Koreans have registered as members of divided families since the programme began, but more than half of them died before getting to meet their relatives again.

"(My family) in North Korea didn't live long so I prayed for my son's health", she said.

The first face-to-face family reunions organized by the two Koreas were in 1985, though they didn't resume until 2000.

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Unofficial reunions can cost about $1500 (NZ$2252), but the process can be faster and is less dependent on the political climate between North and South. In total, the families will have 11 hours together under intense supervision.

Moon attended a 2004 reunion to meet his aunt.

The temporary reunions are highly emotional because most participants are elderly people eager to see their loved ones once more before they die.

The two Koreas have occasionally allowed separated family members to reunite when the rivals' ties have been good.

Many brought gifts like clothes, medicine and food for their relatives in the much poorer North.

She lost her husband and four-year-old son as their family fled, and boarded a ferry headed for the South with only her infant daughter who was accompanying her to the reunion.

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.

Past reunions have produced powerful images of elderly Koreans crying, embracing and caressing each other.

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