Korean families meet briefly after 65-year separation | News | DW | 20.08.2018
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Korean families meet briefly after 65-year separation

Dozens of elderly and frail South Koreans have met their relatives living in North Korea for the first time. Millions of people have been separated from their loved ones since the Korean War.

Amid tears and cries, 89 South and North Korean family members greeted each other on Monday for the first time since they were separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. They gathered in the North Korean resort of Mount Kumgang (Diamond Mountain) on Monday afternoon having earlier crossed into the North to meet their loved ones.

'I didn't even know if he was alive or not'

Lee Keum-seom, a tiny, frail 92-year-old, met her son for the first time since she and her infant daughter were separated from him and her husband as they fled.

Her son showed her pictures of his family in the North — including her late husband. "This is a photo of father," he said. Lee replied: "I never imagined this day would come. I didn't even know if he was alive or not."

Read more: Korean family reunions: Too little, too late?

Rare family reunions could be the last for elderly Koreans (Reuters/Yonhap)

Rare family reunions could be the last for elderly Koreans

Millions of people were displaced by the conflict, which ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, so the two Koreas technically remain at war. Direct exchanges of letters or telephone calls are banned.

The groups of relatives will meet six times for a total of 11 hours during their three-day stay, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

The South Koreans were chosen from a large pool of applicants using a computerized lottery system, while the North's system is unclear, but it is believed citizens are picked according to their loyalty to Pyongyang's authoritarian government.

The waiting lists are long, and for many applicants time ran out: Last year alone 3,800 South Koreans who applied to take part died without ever seeing their relatives. For many of this year's participants, their first meeting after decades of separation will likely be their last, considering their age. Ninety-three families were initially selected, but members of four families could not travel from the South due to ill health.

On-off reunions

The current reunion program began following a historic inter-Korean summit in 2000 and was initially held annually before becoming scarce. The last event was held in 2015.

Since then, the North has tested three nuclear weapons and multiple missiles, claiming to have demonstrated that they could potentially strike the continental United States.

This year's reunion event comes after a diplomatic thaw between the two Koreas and a historic summit in April between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. 

Some experts say the warming relations could suffer a setback if the North refuses to accept a US-led call for complete nuclear disarmament, and that is expected to figure into another inter-Korean summit set for next month in Pyongyang.

kw/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)

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