21 Oct 2015

Families reunited after 60 years apart

1:25 pm on 21 October 2015

Hundreds of South Koreans have begun meeting family members in the North in a rare reunion event for families separated by the Korean War.

South Korean Lee Jeong-Suk, right, 68, kisses her North Korean father Ri Heung-Jong, left, 88, during a separated family reunion meeting.

South Korean Lee Jeong-Suk, right, 68, kisses her North Korean father Ri Heung-Jong, left, 88, during a separated family reunion meeting. Photo: AFP

The reunion, comprising a series of meetings over a week, was being held at a Mount Kumgang resort, at the border.

Thousands of families have been apart with little or no contact since the war ended in 1953.

Reunions have been held sporadically since 1988 and depended on the state of relations between the two countries.

The last reunion was held in February 2014.

This year's meeting came after an agreement in August that de-escalated tensions sparked by a border explosion that injured South Korean soldiers.

The meetings, organised by the Red Cross, were hugely popular with tens of thousands signing up, but few on each side got chosen and they tended to be elderly.

North Korean Chae Hun-Sik, 88, centre, embraces his South Korean relative.

North Korean Chae Hun-Sik, 88, centre, embraces his South Korean relative. Photo: AFP

In South Korea, participants were picked at random by a computer which took into account their age and family background.

They also had to sit interviews and take medical examinations to determine if they were fit to travel.

Lee Taek-gu is 89 years old and he will meet his sister who is 20 years younger. He last saw her when she was a tiny girl and he a young man who got on a boat to flee south, thinking he would come back after the war.

Since then, he has been writing letters to his parents knowing he would never send them because there is no postal service between the two halves of Korea. He wrote them as therapy for his grief.

He said he would simply thank his sister for being alive. They would talk about their parents who were now dead. He has got his best jacket cleaned and spruced up for the occasion and bought a smart new hat.

South Korean Lim Chung-Hwan, 72, left, hugs with his North Korean relative Rim Ok-Rye, 82, right.

South Korean Lim Chung-Hwan, 72, left, hugs with his North Korean relative Rim Ok-Rye, 82, right. Photo: AFP

The first group of about 400 South Koreans, comprising of chosen participants and their accompanying family members, were taking part in the first round of meetings running from Tuesday to Thursday, reported Yonhap news agency.

Another 250 will attend the second round of meetings from Saturday to next Monday. Each round comprised of six two-hour sessions.

Many of those attending from South Korea were bringing gifts for their North Korean relatives such as clothes, food, toothpaste, and cash.

The two Koreas remained technically at war as the Korean War only ended in an armistice.

-BBC

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