South Koreans arrive in North for historical family reunions

Hundreds of South Koreans arrive in North Korea for historical family reunions with relatives they have been seperated more than 60 years

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

South Korean Lee Jung-ho (right) reunites with his elder brother Lee Kwae Seok, who lived in North Korea after being kidnapped by forces, at a 2009 reunion meeting in North Korea's Diamond Mountain.

Hundreds of South Koreans have arrived in North Korea in a stream of buses for historical reunions with relatives they have been separated from, since the war between the countries ended more than 60 years ago.

The reunion programme, which began on Tuesday and lasts for a week, is taking place at the Kumgang Mountain resort in North Korea - located near the heavily fortified border.

The elderly South Koreans said they were taking long johns, medicine, parkas, calligraphy works and cash with them to give to their family members in the North as presents.

They will meet with their children, siblings, spouses and other relatives through Thursday. About 140 North Koreans were expected to show up, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.

In a second round, from Saturday until Monday, about 250 South Koreans are to visit the mountain resort to reunite with about 190 North Korean relatives, the Unification Ministry said.

"I feel really thrilled and happy. I can't wait to see him. I will give him a hug and ask him how he has been doing," said Oh Cheol-hwan, 77, before meeting her 83-year-old brother.

Kim Ki-joo is struggling to find what to ask his older brother when they meet for the first time after 65 years separation.

"It is thrilling but I can't organize my thoughts. I can't think of what to say. We are being reunited after 65 years when I was 11. I want to ask if he can recognize me," Kim said.

96-year-old South Korean Kim Sung-yun, left, is reunited with family members in North Korea.

Divided families 

Many people on both sides of the Demilitarised Zone want such reunions, but the two countries have pulled off relatively few of them.

The first round of reunions was in 1985. After a 15-year gap, several more followed from 2000 to 2010.

The most recent reunions took place in February 2014.

After the negotiated end to a recent armed confrontation across the border, the two Koreas agreed in August to restart the reunions.

About 66,000 South Koreans alive today are currently registered as members of divided families with the South Korean Red Cross.

When specific reunions are planned, Seoul chooses a small number for the meetings by lottery, then the two governments check that the relatives on both sides are still alive.

There is some time pressure on the meetings due to the advanced age and dwindling numbers of those eligible to participate. Most surviving members of separated families are in their 70s and 80s.

TRTWorld and agencies