Friday, February 21, 2014, 07:53
Korean relatives reunite after 60 yrs
By Agencies in Seoul

Pyongyang sets aside demand for suspension of US-ROK military drill

Korean relatives reunite after 60 yrs
Lee Yun-geun, 72, from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, hugs his sister Lee Sun-hyang, 88, from the Republic of Korea, at the Mount Kumgang resort in the DPRK on Thursday. Pyongyang and Seoul are allowing families separated for six decades to reunite in a six-day event. (Photo by Lee Ji-eun / Reuters / Yonhap)
Korean relatives reunite after 60 yrs
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Kim Seok-ryeo (left), 80, grasps her sister Kim Sung-yun, 96, from the Republic of Korea, during their long-awaited family reunion at the Mount Kumgang resort in the DPRK on Thursday. (Lee Ji-eun / Yonhap via Reuters)

More than 100 people from the Republic of Korea, many of them in wheelchairs, crossed the world’s most heavily fortified border on Thursday to be reunited with family members living in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who they have not seen since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The reunions were held after the DPRK set aside a demand for the suspension of joint military drills by the ROK and the United States, which it had demanded as a pre-condition.

At the Mount Kumgang resort just north of the border, long-lost relatives embraced with tears, joy and disbelief. Some failed to recognize family members they had not seen in more than six decades.

ROK TV showed old women in brightly colored traditional hanbok dresses talking and hugging, families trading photographs of relatives who couldn’t attend or had died. Two men in suits and ties wiped away tears, grasped each other by the necks and pressed their foreheads together as cameras flashed. One old man was wheeled in on a stretcher, his head propped on a pillow, a blue blanket wrapped tightly around him.

Among the people from the ROK was Jang Choon, an 81-year-old in a wheelchair who was dressed in the light brown suit and maroon tie he had bought for the reunion with a brother and a sister living in the DPRK.

“My youngest brother Ha-choon had not even started school when I last saw him,” said Jang, the eldest of four siblings, one of whom has died. “But now he’s an old man like me.”

The reunions used to be held roughly annually, but have not taken place since 2010 as tensions between the two neighbors spiraled after the DPRK said the ROK sank one of its naval vessels. In later months, the DPRK shelled an ROK island and a war of words has continued since then.

For many of those making the trip to Mt Kumgang, it will be the last chance to meet separated loved ones.

Of the 128,000 people registered in the ROK as coming from families that were torn apart by the Korean War, 44 percent have already died and more than 80 percent of survivors are over 70, according to the ROK Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations.

There have been 18 family reunions since the first in 1985 and 18,143 ROK and DPRK brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers have met.

The events have never been regular and the two sides have squabbled over the details of the events, such as deciding on the venue. After the first four, in which families traveled back and forth between Seoul and Pyongyang, the DPRK has insisted on hosting the events on its soil.

For the families, the politics are secondary.

“I swore to myself, I must not die before I meet my brother and sister,” said Jang, the 81-year-old. “I just cannot die with my eyes closed if I don’t see them this time.”

Reuters - AP