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

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters 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.
Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmakingi
X
Bernard Shusman
May 24, 2015 2:55 PM
According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.
Video

Video Effort Underway to Limit Damage from California Oil Spill

Cleanup crews are working around the clock to remove oil from the waters off the coastal city of Santa Barbara, in California. About 380,000 liters of oil may have leaked out before a rupture in an onshore, underground pipeline was discovered Tuesday. The environmental disaster hit the popular West Coast resort area before the Memorial Day weekend. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports investigators have yet to determine what caused the incident.

VOA Blogs