Separated Koreans to part again with no hope of reunions

By 정주원
  • Published : Feb 25, 2014 - 10:02
  • Updated : Feb 25, 2014 - 10:05
Hundreds of South Koreans will bid farewell, perhaps for good, to their long-lost relatives from North Korea on Tuesday after their first temporary reunions since the 1950-53 Korean War.

A total of 357 South Koreans will return home later in the day after three days of reunions with 88 elderly North Korean relatives at Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort on the North's east coast.

Their final, one-hour meeting started at around 9:10 a.m. Tuesday morning, bringing to 11 the number of times they were able to see each other during the reunions at this snow-covered North Korean mountain resort.

The reunions were 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 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, were to end on Tuesday morning, a day after 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 reunions came to an end without hope that separated family members will meet each other again 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, and sending letters and emails to each other, though some illegal channels exist.

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.

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, according to the data.

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