Families of two Koreas hold 2nd day of reunions

By 정주원
  • Published : Feb 21, 2014 - 10:31
  • Updated : Feb 21, 2014 - 15:39
The seperated families of the two Koreas arrive at the hotel on the second day of the 
reunion event at the Mount Geumgangsan resort, North Korea, Thursday. 
(Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

Hundreds of South and North Korean families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War met again with each other on the second day of reunions Friday at a North Korean mountain resort.

A total of 82 elderly South Koreans, accompanied by 58 family members, exchanged gifts with about 180 North Korean relatives in their hotel rooms as they shared more personal stories after decades of painful separation.

Kim Dong-bin, 80, said he excitedly prepared presents for his North Korean relatives as he showed South Korean reporters ahead of the private reunion two travel luggage bags full of cosmetics, chocolate, medicine, soaps and clothes.

The three-year conflict ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, keeping ordinary citizens from the rival Koreas from meeting, making phone calls or sending letters or emails to each other, though some illegal channels exist.

These private sessions were not open to South Korean reporters covering the reunions at Mount Geumgangsan, a scenic resort on the North's east coast.

The reunions are a key part of a recent inter-Korean deal meant to improve bilateral relations that had worsened due mainly to the North's harsh war rhetoric against Seoul.

The reunions, the first since late 2010, came as Seoul and Washington are prepared to launch their annual joint military exercises next week, which have been denounced by the North as a rehearsal for invasion.

The North had demanded that Seoul delay the military exercises until after the reunions, but it later backed down, a concession that suggested that Pyongyang may be serious about mending fences with Seoul.

South Korea has called the reunions a first step toward improving inter-Korean relations.

In the latest goodwill gesture toward Pyongyang, South Korea allowed two private aid groups in Seoul to ship 1.06 billion won ($988,000) worth of tuberculosis medicine and powdered milk to North Korea. The approval on Friday brings the total amount of assistance to the North this year by South Korean private aid groups to 1.5 billion won.

The separated family members are set to have lunch at the hotel before meeting en masse at a banquet hall later in the day.

Meanwhile, two South Korean participants, a 91-year-old man and an 84-year-old woman who had to travel to the North Korean resort on ambulances, returned home due to health problems.

Separately, a South Korean worker also returned home for treatment after falling from his two-meter-high truck as he was clearing heavy snowfall that pounded the Mount Geumgangsan area.

Other South Koreans are set to return home on Saturday as scheduled, the last of the three-day reunions arranged by the Red Cross of the two Koreas. On Sunday, about 360 other South Koreans plan to cross the heavily fortified border into North Korea for another round of three-day reunions with their North Korean relatives.

The Koreas have held more than a dozen rounds of reunions since their landmark summit in 2000, bringing together more than 21,700 family members who had not seen each other since the Korean War. Millions of Koreans remain separated across the border as the sides are technically in a state of war.

South Korea has repeatedly called for frequent family reunions with North Korea, saying time is running out for tens of thousands of elderly people who wish to see their long-lost relatives before they die.

More than 129,200 South Koreans have applied for temporary reunions with their family members and relatives in North Korea since 1988, according to government data. Among them, more than 57,700 people, or 44.7 percent of the applicants, have died since, according to the data

Still, the North has balked at the idea of staging frequent meetings. (Yonhap News)