News / Asia

S. Korea Urges North to Allow Family Reunions

South Korean protesters shout slogans as they hold national flags during a press conference against abrupt cancellation by North Korea of planned reunions for families separated by the Korean War, Sept. 23, 2013.
South Korean protesters shout slogans as they hold national flags during a press conference against abrupt cancellation by North Korea of planned reunions for families separated by the Korean War, Sept. 23, 2013.
Daniel Schearf
South Korea is urging North Korea not to back out of planned reunions this week of aging families separated by the Korean War.  Pyongyang on Saturday announced it was indefinitely postponing the meetings because of what it called a confrontational attitude from Seoul. 
South Korea's Unification Ministry on Monday called for North Korea to allow scheduled inter-Korean family reunions to go forward.
The meetings, between relatives divided since the Korean War, have not been held since 2010 because of political and military tension.
An ease in tensions led the two Koreas to agree in August to resume the reunions this week.
Through the Red Cross, they exchanged lists of about 100 families on each side. But on Saturday, Pyongyang abruptly called-off the event.  
Kim Eyi-do, a Unification Ministry spokesman, said North Korea should rapidly respond to their call for holding the family reunion event to cure the pain and scars of separated families.
The ministry called Pyongyang's unilateral postponement of the reunions deeply regrettable and inhumane.  It noted the urgency of reuniting aging family members, noting three participants had to cancel due to health while one other died.
Less than 60 percent of the 129,000 South Koreans registered as having family in the North are still alive.
And more than 70 percent of surviving families are aged 70 or older.
Lee Ki-sook, 81, said she could not help but cry when the reunion with her family was called off.
She said she feels very sad and can hardly talk about it.  She was going to meet her niece, the daughter of her older brother.  She said she bought many gifts.
Ninety-two-year-old Park Woon-hyung said he has been waiting 60 years and can wait a few more months.
He does not think the reunions are halted forever and hopes the reunions resume within a month.  He said it comforts him that he confirmed the person who he wants to meet is alive.  His brother, youngest sister and himself are alive, and he heard that his daughter is alive there too.  He said he is satisfied to hear that even though he could not meet them.  
Lee Sang-nam said while her hopes were dashed for a family reunion she really worries about her 88-year-old mother.
She said her mother feels more despair than herself.  She is extremely disappointed as this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity may go away.  She wishes her mother to meet their relatives as soon as possible because she is worried.  They are very old and get sick easily, she said, and she is also worried about her mother's health.
Kim Seong-keun is Director of the Korea Red Cross's International and Inter-Korean Bureau.  He said North Korea has postponed reunions before (in 2000, 2001 and 2007) but later resumed them.
He said many divided families are in despair, it is a regrettable situation and they think that the families need consolation.  He said they called all the families Saturday and Sunday to tell them the news.
North Korea's state media blamed their decision to call off the reunions on Seoul, which it said loudly took credit for improved inter-Korean relations while mocking and provoking Pyongyang.  
In South Korea, there are suspicions the North’s suspension is a negotiating tactic aimed at tying the reunions to a push to resume lucrative tourism to Mount Kumgang.  
Lee Sang-cheol is chairman of the Ten Thousand Divided Families Committee.  He says Pyongyang only raises the possibility of reunions when there is a political problem.
He said the issue of reunions of divided families is a humanitarian matter.  He thinks it was North Korea’s idea to connect the divided families reunions and the Mount Kumgang tour.  He said North Korea is acting against filial piety and they condemn the action.
Visitation to the North's resort area has been halted since 2008, when a soldier shot dead a South Korean tourist who wandered into a restricted area.
Cash-starved Pyongyang had sought to include Mount Kumgang tourism along with negotiations for the family reunions and the re-opening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex.  But Seoul has insisted on keeping the inter-Korean factory project in North Korea, and reunions, separated from the tourism issue.
Pyongyang unilaterally suspended the Kaesong factory operations in April, but they resumed last week after months of talks.
The negotiations on resuming tourism to Mount Kumgang were scheduled for October 2, but Pyongyang has postponed them. 

VOA Seoul Bureau Producer Youmi Kim and Korean Service reporter Do Sung-Min contributed to this report

You May Like

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs