News / Asia

South Koreans Hold Emotional Family Reunions in the North

Lee Son-hyang, 88, (L) of South Korea and Lee Yoon Geun, 72 (R) of North Korea embrace during a reunion event for families divided by the two countries, at the Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea on February 20, 2014. (AFP Photo/Yonhap)
Lee Son-hyang, 88, (L) of South Korea and Lee Yoon Geun, 72 (R) of North Korea embrace during a reunion event for families divided by the two countries, at the Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea on February 20, 2014. (AFP Photo/Yonhap)
VOA News
A group of elderly South Koreans met their North Korean family members for the first time since they were separated six decades ago by the Korean War.

The emotional meeting Thursday between the 82 South Koreans and 180 North Koreans was held at the North's scenic Mount Kumgang resort on the east coast.

Tearful relatives embraced each other, exchanging gifts and family photos at the tightly chaperoned event. In some cases, the relatives were meeting each other for the first time ever.

Such family reunions have not been held since 2010, and they nearly fell victim this time to increased tensions between the two neighbors, which are still technically at war.

In an interview with VOA Thursday, Lee Sang Chul, a representative of the South Korean Association of Divided Families, called for regular reunions of families separated since the Korean War.

Lee said, “We are running out of time. Right now, only about 100 people from each side are allowed to participate in family reunions. Divided families want both governments [North and South Korea] to increase the number of the participants. They also want to know if their families are still alive after more than six decades. In terms of the number of the family reunions, they want them to be regularized, hopefully, once a month.”

Pyongyang for weeks threatened to cancel the reunions, as it has in the past, if Seoul went ahead with its annual joint military drills with Washington on Monday.

But the North eventually relented, in an agreement last week following a high-level meeting that many hope can serve as a first step towards improved ties.

Troy Stangarone of the Washington-based Korean Economic Institute says the reunions are particularly significant given the degree to which inter-Korean relations had recently deteriorated.

"Over the last year we've had a lot of tension between North and South Korea as we've transitioned into Kim Jong Un['s rule]," he said. "And this is sort of the first real step of progress between the two Koreas in that period."

Others are not convinced that the reunions reflect any drastic change in North Korea's policy towards the South. Lee Sung-Yoon is a Korea Studies professor at Tufts University.

He says, "The last time we had a reunion of this sort between separated families in the North and South was in late October [2010]. The next month...North Korea attacked - shelled - an inhabited South Korean island killing four South Korean citizens."

Lee says while the reunions, which began in 2000, are immensely meaningful for those involved, they have not triggered any genuine reform in North Korea or any meaningful improvement in inter-Korean relations, as some had hoped.

Still, South Korea has been pushing the North to allow for regular meetings between divided families, many of whom are in their 80s and had all but given up hope of seeing their loved ones.

A second round of reunions involving 88 North Koreans and 361 of their South Korean relatives will take place later this week and last until Tuesday. After that, it is unclear when or if the next event will be held.

Many of the South Korean families expressed joy at the long-awaited reunions, but said they realize it is likely the last time they will ever see or even talk to their relatives, as even inter-Korean phone calls and letters are prohibited by both governments.

Millions of Koreans were separated in the 1950s conflict. Most have died without ever seeing their relatives again.

Since 2000, about 130,000 South Koreans have put their names on a reunion waiting list. Just over half are still alive.


Victor Beattie contributed to this report from Washington while Kim Eunjee and Hang Sang Mi contributed from Seoul.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs