Second round of emotional reunions for separated Korean families

South Korean resident Gu Sang-Yeon (Left) meets his North Korean two daughters Gu Song-Ok (second, right) and Gu Sun-Ok (Right), during a luncheon on the first day of separated families reunion of second group on Mount Kumgang, Kangwon Province, Nort
South Korean resident Gu Sang-Yeon (Left) meets his North Korean two daughters Gu Song-Ok (second, right) and Gu Sun-Ok (Right), during a luncheon on the first day of separated families reunion of second group on Mount Kumgang, Kangwon Province, North Korea, 24 Oct 2015.. PHOTO: EPA
South Korean and North Korean separated residents look at their family pictures during a luncheon on the first day of separated families reunion of second group on Mount Kumgang, Kangwon Province, North Korea, 24 Oct 2015.
South Korean and North Korean separated residents look at their family pictures during a luncheon on the first day of separated families reunion of second group on Mount Kumgang, Kangwon Province, North Korea, 24 Oct 2015.PHOTO: EPA
South Korean resident Cho Sun-Jeon (Right) meets her North Korean daughter Cho Gwi-Nyeo (Left).
South Korean resident Cho Sun-Jeon (Right) meets her North Korean daughter Cho Gwi-Nyeo (Left).PHOTO: EPA
South Korean resident Han Won-Ja (Right) meets her North Korean elder brother Han Chal-Gill (Left).
South Korean resident Han Won-Ja (Right) meets her North Korean elder brother Han Chal-Gill (Left).PHOTO: EPA
South Korean resident Kim Wol-Soon and  family take pictures with her North Korean son Ju Jae-Eun.
South Korean resident Kim Wol-Soon and family take pictures with her North Korean son Ju Jae-Eun. PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL (AFP) - A second round of highly-charged family reunions on Saturday (Oct 24) brought together relatives split for six decades by the Korean War, with around 250 mostly elderly South Koreans crossing into the North.

After passing the heavily militarised border in a convoy of buses, the group of South Korean families were driven to the North Korean resort of Mount Kumgang for the first day of emotional encounters with sons, daughters and siblings divided by the conflict.

Among them was Jung Gun Mok, 64, who was abducted by the North in 1972 aboard a South Korean fishing boat in the Yellow Sea, and his mother, who last saw him as a young man.

"Your son is alive. Don't cry, mother," Mr Jung said, hugging 88-year-old Lee Bok Soon while wiping away her tears with a handkerchief, according to reports.

Mr Jung was among 500 South Koreans kidnapped by North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean War.

Mr Koo Sang Yeon, 98, was the eldest South Korean present, and met his two North Korean daughters. As a former North Korean soldier, he was captured during the war and released later from a prison camp to live in the South.

The meetings came two days after hundreds of other families wrapped up the first round of reunions.

This week's events are only the second set of such encounters in the past five years - the result of an agreement the two Koreas reached in August to ease tensions that had pushed them to the brink of armed conflict.

But interaction was tightly controlled - limited to six two-hour sessions, including meetings in a communal hall, with more limited private one-on-one time without TV cameras.

For the families, the 12 hours total together was heartbreakingly short.

 

But given there are more than 65,000 South Koreans currently on the waiting list for a reunion spot, those selected represent a very fortunate minority.

Millions of people were displaced by the sweep of the Korean conflict, which separated brothers and sisters, parents and children, husbands and wives.

Because the conflict ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war and direct exchanges of letters or telephone calls are banned.

Among the South Korean generation that actually experienced the division, the vast majority died without ever having any contact with their relatives in the North - and, in many cases, without knowing if they were even alive.

With the mortality rate of reunion candidates increasing with every passing year, many accept they may never be selected and have resorted instead to taping video messages - and providing DNA samples - that might allow for some posthumous contact in the future.

The reunion programme began in earnest after a historic North-South summit in 2000, and was initially an annual event.

 

But Pyongyang has long manipulated the reunion issue as a tool for extracting concessions from Seoul, and sees its agreement to hold the meetings as an act of diplomatic largesse that merits reward.

South Korea's presidential security advisor Kim Kwan Jin said on Thursday (Oct 22) that Seoul would push for fresh talks with Pyongyang on arranging family reunions regularly.

"If the two Koreas make progress, we can hold family reunion events on a regular basis and check whether or not they are alive," he said.