Published: Mon, August 20, 2018
Worldwide | By Jermaine Blake

South Koreans cross inter-Korean border for family reunion

South Koreans cross inter-Korean border for family reunion

Dozens of elderly and frail South Koreans set off for North Korea on Monday (April 20) to meet relatives for the first time since they were separated almost seven decades ago by a war that divided the peninsula and their families.

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

The separated families are victims of a decades-long political gridlock since the 1950-53 war ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, with ties increasingly strained as Pyongyang rapidly stepped up its weapons programmes. Almost 20,000 people have participated in 20 rounds of face-to-face reunions since 2000.

Clasping one another, they tried to bridge the decades of separation through precious physical contact and by showing each other pictures of their relatives.

The participants included the families of a prisoner of war and five people abducted by North Korean authorities during the conflict, though the six South Koreans they had hoped to meet had died.

Park Hong-seo, an 88-year-old Korean War veteran from the southern city of Daegu, said he always wondered whether he'd faced his older brother in battle.

Jang and his older brother - who died 10 years ago - were the only ones from the family who fled their hometown in Hwanghae province to the South in 1951.

"When I fled home in the war.", Han said, faltering as she choked with emotion and left her sentence incomplete.

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The two Koreas, which are technically still at war, have organised reunion events before, but this is the first in three years. At Diamond Mountain, he will meet his North Korean nephew and niece, who are 74 and 69, respectively. Choco Pies, a marshmallow between two pieces of cake and covered in chocolate, are particularly popular in North Korea, and were previously offered as bonuses to workers in joint manufacturing projects.

Past reunions between brothers and sisters, parents and children and husbands and wives have been extremely emotional experiences.

South Korean Lee Geum-seom, 92, is helped by Red Cross officials as she arrives to take part in family reunions with her North Korean family members.

But after a rapid diplomatic thaw, the North's leader Kim Jong Un and the South's President Moon Jae-in agreed to restart them at their first summit in April in the DMZ.

They set off for North Korea on Monday to meet their relatives for the first time in almost seven decades since the conflict divided the peninsula.

But Seoul has failed to persuade Pyongyang to accept its long-standing call for more frequent reunions with more participants.

A hundred people were chosen by each side to attend the reunion.

Inter-Korean family reunion participants prepare to depart for North Korea from a hotel resort in Sokcho on August 20, 2018. While South Korea uses a computerized lottery to pick participants for the reunions, North Korea is believed to choose based on loyalty to its authoritarian leadership.

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