The history of Korean family reunions

The history of Korean family reunions

One 92-year-old South Korean woman wept and stroked the wrinkled cheeks of her 71-year-old North Korean son.

Lee Keum-seom said she lost track of her son, then aged four, and her husband in the panic of trying to flee, reported AFP. "Do you have a son?"

"This is a photo of my father, mom", Sang Chol said, showing her a picture of his late father-and her former husband.

The week-long event is the first of its kind in almost three years, and was arranged as part of diplomatic efforts to resolve a stand-off over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The brief family reunions, which began in 1985, can be a traumatic experience for the aging survivors, they say.

"He is very old so I really want to express my gratitude for being alive for a long time".

South Korea sees the separated families as the largest humanitarian issue created by the war, which killed and injured millions and cemented the division of the Korean Peninsula into the North and South.

During Monday's meetings, many elderly Koreans held each other's hands and wiped away tears while asking how their relatives had lived.

Lee Soo-nam, 76, explains about photos showing his family members during an interview at his home in Seoul, South Korea.

Many of the South Korean participants are war refugees born in North Korea who will be meeting their siblings or the infant children they left behind, many of them now into their 70s.

The two countries have held 20 rounds of such exchanges since 2000, but Monday's reunions were the first in three years.

Many are bringing gifts like clothes, medicine and food for their relatives in the much poorer North.

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A group of 89 people, mostly elderly, were chosen, CNN reported, to travel from South Korea to North Korea and see relatives many hadn't even been in contact with since the armistice was signed in 1953.

But after a rapid diplomatic thaw the North's leader Kim Jong Un and the South's President Moon Jae-in agreed to restart them at their first summit in April in the DMZ.

North Korea has shifted to diplomacy in recent months.

On seeing him however, there was no hesitation, and the two elderly Koreans embraced each other tightly, both in tears.

"They don't know what their father looks like so I will tell them what he looked like and when he died", Jang said.

However, time is running out for many ageing family members.

The separated families are victims of a decades-long political gridlock since the 1950-53 war ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, with ties increasingly strained as Pyongyang rapidly stepped up its weapons programmes.

Starting on Thursday, there will be a meeting of another 88 groups of relatives, 469 from the South and 128 from the North, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.

Moon attended a 2004 reunion to meet his aunt. "As a separated family member, I deeply share their sorrow and pitifulness", he said during a meeting with his aides.

Amid all the joy and happy scenes on both sides of the border this week, this is the reality for most whose families remain split by the Korean War.

In the last round of reunions in 2015, Kim Hyun-sook met her North Korean daughter and granddaughter, but felt they couldn't speak freely in front of her. While South Korean choose participants through a computerized lottery, experts say North Koreans select candidates based on their perceived loyalty to the regime.

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