Koreas hold family reunions amid tensions over military drills

By 박한나
  • Published : Feb 24, 2014 - 10:25
  • Updated : Feb 24, 2014 - 10:25

Hundreds of South Koreans were reunited Monday with their North Korean relatives they had not seen since the 1950-53 Korean War as Seoul began its joint annual military exercises with Washington.

A total of 357 South Koreans met with 88 elderly North Korean relatives on the second of three days of family reunions at Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort on the North's east coast.

The reunions are the second set in a week. On Saturday, 80 elderly South Koreans, accompanied by 56 family members, returned home from the mountain resort after a first round of three-day reunions with their North Korean relatives.

The reunions -- which will end on Tuesday -- are a key part of a recent inter-Korean deal meant to improve bilateral relations that worsened last year due to the North's third nuclear test and its threats of war against Seoul and Washington.

The latest reunions, the first since late 2010, came as Seoul and Washington launched their annual joint military exercises, which have been denounced by the North as a rehearsal for invasion.

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

The rival Koreas have said the family reunions can serve as a first step toward improving cross-border relations.

"The time has come to tear down the wall that has separated the two Koreas over the last 70 years," Lee Chung-bok, North Korea's vice chief of the General Guidance Bureau for the Mount Kumgang International Tourist Special Zone, said Sunday.

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

The South Koreans plan to return home on Tuesday after a series of reunion meetings with their long-lost relatives from North Korea for the first time in six decades.

There is no hope that they will meet again each other during their lifetime because the Korean War ended in a cease-fire rather than a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically in a state of war.

The division keeps ordinary citizens from the rival Koreas from meeting, making phone calls or sending letters or emails to each other, though some illegal channels exist. (Yonhap)