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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    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.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora