Hundreds of South Koreans in North Korea on Tuesday had no word on a temporary reunion with family members after the turmoil of the Korean War 60 years ago.
The first meetings since February last year are a bitter reminder that the Korean Peninsula is still in a state of technical war, as the 1950-53 war ended with a war agreement, not a peace agreement. Koreans prohibit ordinary citizens from visiting relatives living on the other side of the border and exchanging letters, phone calls and emails without government permission. About 390 South Koreans, some in wheelchairs, arrived Tuesday morning at the South Korean immigration office on the world’s strongest border.
“A good trip,” South Korean Red Cross officials dressed in yellow entered the immigration office in the border town of Kosong. South Korean participants said they would take John, medicine, park, signature work and money long to give gifts to their family members in the north.
They will spend three days meeting their children, siblings, spouses and other relatives. About 140 North Koreans were expected to attend, according to Seoul’s Ministry of Coordination.
In the second round, from Saturday to Monday, about 250 South Koreans will go to the mountain resort and reunite with about 190 North Korean relatives, the coordination ministry said.
In August, rivals agreed to resume family reunions during talks to end the conflict when a landmine blast on Pyongyang crippled two South Korean soldiers. They have a history of failing to pursue cooperation plans, but these meetings are happening because North Korea did not go with threats to launch a satellite earlier this month. The introduction may have canceled reunions as Seoul and Washington were indirectly firing on banned tests of long-range missile technology.
South Korean participant Kim Yong-ok said on Monday that his brother in the north was looking for her and would attend the reunion. She had no idea he was still alive. “It was a real surprise,” he said. “After I asked him, my heart was full of emotion.”
Reunions are so emotional that most people who apply for them are in their 70s or older and long to see their loved ones before they die. Nearly half of the 130,410 South Koreans who applied to attend the reunion have died. The older siblings hugged each other and cried, asking for details of their lives and other loved ones before parting again.
Lee Taek-ku, 89, is back online with his younger sister in North Korea on Saturday and is already sad about the breakup. “It will be a real burden on the mind. It would be nice if we could communicate by letters after the meeting, but I will be sad (after reuniting) because we can’t,” he said in an interview last week.
South Korea uses a computerized lottery system to select participants, while North Korea chooses on the basis of allegiance to its dictatorial leadership.
Seoul has long called for a drastic increase in the number of people attending meetings and to continue to hold them. North Korea, which has often been a bargaining chip in negotiations with South Korea, is leading the country to a more favorable southern influence and reduce its grip on power.
Family gatherings were part of a series of goodwill plans that were postponed in 2000 following the first summit between the two leaders. About 18,800 Koreans attended 19 face-to-face meetings and about 3,750 reunited via video.