Elderly South Koreans to reunite with relatives in North

Elias Hubbard
August 20, 2018

The reunions, the first in three years, took place in the North's tourist resort on Mount Kumgang, as agreed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their first summit in April.

More than 130,000 South Koreans have signed up for a reunion since the events began but a lot of them have since died.

Among the group is Lee Keum-seom, now a tiny and frail 92, who was waiting to see her son for the first time since she left him behind in the turmoil of war.

Siblings Kim Gyong Sil, 72 and Gyong Yong, 71, wearing the traditional hanbok dress, coloured pale violet, stood nervously staring at the entrance, awaiting their 99-year-old mother Han Shin-ja.

The family reunion is the result of an agreement their leaders reached in April to address humanitarian issues arising from almost seven decades of division caused by the Korean War.

"I never imagined this day would come", Lee said.

For years, Seoul has called for regular meetings between separated families, including the use of video conferences, but the programme often fell victim to fragile ties.

Some 200 Koreans separated from their families since the Korean War are finally reuniting this week.

But while Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump held a landmark summit in Singapore in June, Pyongyang has yet to make clear what concessions it is willing to make on its nuclear arsenal, while Washington is looking to maintain sanctions pressure on it.

The reunions should be scaled up sharply, held regularly, and include exchanges of visits and letters, said Moon, himself a member of a separated family from the North's eastern port city of Hungnam.

"Expanding and accelerating family reunions is a top priority".

In this October 22, 2015, file photo, North Korean Son Kwon Geun, (centre), weeps with his South Korean relatives as he bids farewell after the Separated Family Reunion Meeting at Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea.

Over the next three days, the 89 families will spend only about 11 hours together, mostly under the watchful eyes of North Korean agents.

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.

Participants are chosen by lottery - after which checks are carried out to ensure their relatives are still alive - and are seen as extremely lucky.

Mr Pak Sam Dong pointed at one of the images, telling his brother: "This is you".

Only 57,000 applicants are still alive, and many are in their 80's or older.

The government has dispatched around 30 medical and emergency staff to the venue in consideration of most of the participants in the reunion event are elderly.

"They don't know what their father looks like so I will tell them what he looked like and when he died", Jang said.

Many brought gifts of clothing, medicine and food for their North Korean relatives, since anything deemed extravagant by Pyongyang was unlikely to pass muster.

"Whenever I saw pretty clothes, I always thought how cute they would look in them", she said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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