|A South Korean woman weeps on a bus after tearfully bidding farewell to her North Korean relatives at the end of the first round of three-day reunions at Mount Geumgangsan on Saturday. (Joint Press Corps)|
MOUNT GEUMGANGSAN, North Korea ― With tears and screams mingling with sounds of joy, 357 South Koreans were reunited with their long-lost kin at a North Korean mountain resort on Sunday as the second round of reunions began.
Eighty-eight North Koreans, mostly in their 80s, met their South Korean relatives after six decades of separation. They are to have a total of 11 hours together in six sessions until Tuesday.
On Saturday, 80 South Koreans, accompanied by 56 family members, bade a tearful farewell to 174 North Korean relatives, while expressing hopes that they will meet again after reunification.
In the second round of the gatherings, many South Koreans met kin whom they thought had been killed after the North Korean military forcibly drafted them during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Some of the families from the South had set up altars and held memorial services each year for relatives believed to have passed away.
“We all thought that those drafted into the North Korean army had died, 100 percent,” said Park Un-seong, 85, who met his 81-year-old brother Un-chol living in the North.
Ryu Jeong-hee, 69, rendezvoused with her elder brother Geun-chol, 81.
“Our family has long sought to learn the whereabouts of my elder brother, who has not been heard from since he was forced to serve for the North Korean military,” said Ryu. “We gave up and even registered his death with the government. It is like a miracle for us to be able to meet him again. We still can’t believe this.”
Three sisters from the South ― Park Geum-hwa, Chu-dae and Geum-sun ― were reunited with their 82-year-old sister Gye-hwa.
“Our parents, who have passed away, cried a lot for so long after they lost their eldest daughter during the Korean War,” said Park Geum-hwa, bound by a wheelchair due to back pain.
Some South Korean families flew from overseas for this rare chance to meet their relatives in the North.
Kim Kyeong-suk, 81, came from the U.S. to meet her elder brother Jeon Yong-eui, 84. While living in the U.S., she adopted her husband’s surname. Choi Jeong-su flew from Canada to meet her elder sister Jong-ae, 79.
“During the war, you did not return home from school, sister. I still remember you were a warm-hearted sister to me. To meet you, I have come all the way from Toronto,” Choi Jeong-su said in a tearful voice.
Nam Bong-ja, 61, brought her son and daughter, who live in the U.S., to meet her elder brother Nam Gung-ryol, 87.
South Korean family members brought large packages of gifts for their North Korean relatives, which included various daily commodities and medicines including painkillers, toothpaste, cookies, underwear and winter jackets.
The emotional reunion scenes highlighted the pressing need to regularize the family reunions. The vast majority of the people were in their 80s, making the reunions perhaps the last chance to see their relatives in the North.
Toward the end of the first round of the reunions, family members hugged each other and burst into tears.
“Stay healthy. We will be able to meet again after reunification,” said Park Yang-gon while bidding farewell to his brother Yang-soo, who was taken to the North after his fishing boat was seized by North Korean agents in the West Sea some 42 years ago.
The cross-border reunions were held for the first time in more than three years. Last September, the two Koreas sought to hold the reunions, but the plan was canceled due to strained bilateral relations.
This year’s reunions did not come without trouble. Pyongyang threatened to cancel the gatherings while pressuring Seoul to delay or cancel the annual South Korea-U.S. military exercises that begin on Monday.
By Song Sang-ho, Joint Press Corps