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

Polls Open in Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country 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.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid