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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid