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

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs