Back To Top

S. Korean separated families gather ahead of reunions with N.K. relatives

South Korean families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War gathered at a resort on the country's east coast Monday to prepare for reunions with their North Korean relatives later this week, officials said.

The first batch of the nearly 400 South Koreans, part of 96 families, stopped in the city of Sokcho on their way to the scenic resort on Mount Kumgang for the reunions with their family members in North Korea from Tuesday to Thursday.

The upcoming event, the first since February 2014, is the result of the deal South and North Korea reached in August to defuse military tension and resume the family reunions.

The second round of the reunions involving some 250 South Koreans, part of 90 families, will be held from Saturday to next Monday at the North Korean resort, which is about a half-hour drive from Sokcho.

"I cannot decide if this is a dream or reality. I can finally meet my husband," said Lee Soon-kyu, 84.

Since parting with Oh In-se, 83, during the war 65 years ago, Lee has performed a memorial rite for her husband over the past 37 years, believing that he might have died.

Lee's 65-year-old son, Oh Jang-kyun, said, "If I meet my father, I'd like to tightly hug my parents at the same time."

There are more than 66,000 South Korean family members separated by the Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving South and North Korea technically at war.

The issue of the separated families is one of the most pressing humanitarian matters as most of the surviving family members are in their 80s and older. About half of the estimated 129,700 applicants for the family reunions have died.

As more separated family members have passed away, finding parent-child relations and husband-wife ones has become rarer. For the upcoming event, most of the separated families are looking to meet their siblings or close relatives.

The feasibility of the reunions remained in doubt until the last minute due to the possibility of North Korea launching a long-range rocket.

The North has a track record of unilaterally delaying scheduled reunion events, including in September 2013.

But North Korea forwent such provocative acts on the 70th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers' Party, which fell on Oct. 10.

The North also has remained silent about the recent summit between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama, during which they jointly called on North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

Since the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, the two Koreas have held 19 rounds of face-to-face family reunion events. Seven rounds of video-based reunions also have been held.

Only some 18,800 family members from both sides have been allowed to have face-to-face reunions so far. (Yonhap)