About 90 families from North and South Korea have wept and embraced as the neighbours held their first reunion events in three years for relatives wrenched apart by the Korean War.
The brief reunions are set to total just 11 hours over the next three days in the North’s tourist resort of Mount Kumgang after the neighbours renewed exchanges this year following a stand-off over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to the reunion events at a summit in April.
About 330 South Koreans from 89 families, many in wheelchairs, embraced 185 separated relatives from the North with tears, joy and disbelief. Some struggled to recognise family not glimpsed in more than 60 years.
“How are you so old?” Kim Dal-in, 92, asked his sister, Yu Dok, after gazing at her briefly in silence.
“I’ve lived this long to meet you,” replied the 85-year-old, wiping away tears as she clasped a photograph of her brother in his youth.
Siblings Kim Gyong Sil, 72 and Gyong Yong, 71, wearing the traditional hanbok dress, coloured pale violet, stood nervously staring at the entrance, awaiting their 99-year-old mother Han Shin-ja. They could not speak for minutes, wailed loudly and rubbed their cheeks and hands.
“When I fled home in the war…,” Han said, faltering as she choked with emotion and left her sentence incomplete.
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 programs.
More than 57,000 South Korean survivors have registered for the family reunions, which usually end in painful farewells.
The reunions should be scaled up sharply, held regularly, and include exchanges of visits and letters, said Moon, himself a member of a separated family from the North’s eastern port city of Hungnam.
“It is a shame for both governments that many of the families have passed away without knowing whether their lost relatives were alive,” he told presidential secretaries at a meeting.
From Thursday, 88 more groups of relatives will meet, comprised of 469 individuals from the South and 128 from the North, Seoul’s Unification Ministry says.
The reunions, which began in 1985, can be a traumatic experience, say survivors, who know they are unlikely to see their relatives again, since many are 80 or older and first-timers typically get priority for visits.
Australian Associated Press