Some of the participants from the two Koreas collapsed as they recognized their brothers, sisters, sons and daughters they had been separated from since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Others looked confused, trying to identify their relatives and calling out each other’s names in trembling voices.
More than 140 North Koreans from 96 families attended the reunions, which were held for the first time since February 2014. The reunions were possible because of a comprehensive cross-border deal on Aug. 25 to reduce border tensions and enhance bilateral ties.
|Lee Sun-gyu, 85, smiles as she reunites with her now 83-year-old husband Oh In-se from the North during the first separated family reunion session at Mount Geumgangsan in North Korea on Tuesday. Yonhap|
“I am so thankful that you are still alive, my father. I have confidently lived my life as your son though we have been apart,” said Oh Jang-gyun from the South as he met with his 83-year-old father Oh In-se from the North.
“We all look alike,” he added, choking with tears.
His father approached his long-lost wife, Lee Sun-gyu, 85, from the South, saying the war has caused their separation of six decades.
“My tears are all dried up, as we have been separated from each other for almost a lifetime. The three-day reunion is too short to talk about what happened while we were apart,” Lee told her husband while firmly holding his hands.
Lee Jae-hyeong, 71, from the South reunited with his sister Lee Gyeong-sook, 81. They were separated when Jae-hyeong was only six.
“I thought you died during the war,” he said, fighting back tears.
It took less than three hours for the South Korean families to pass through the customs clearance procedures and travel to the venue in the North, although they had anxiously awaited the reunions for more than six decades.
Those from the South brought medicine, winter coats, socks, toothpaste and other basic commodities to give their relatives living in the impoverished state under heavy international sanctions for its nuclear and missile development.
|Lee Jeong-sook, 68, and her father Lee Heung-jong, 88, from the North embrace each other during the first separated family reunion session at Mount Geumgangsan in North Korea on Tuesday. Yonhap|
Among participants were those in their 80s and 90s suffering from various illnesses including hypertension, diabetes and herniated lumbar discs -- the reason Seoul authorities sent nearly 20 medical staffers and five ambulances.
Wearing an oxygen mask, Kim Soon-tak, 77, who has been suffering from asthma, moved to the resort by ambulance. Yeom Jin-rye, 83, also traveled to the venue via ambulance due to her worsening herniated lumbar disc.
Several other participants have given up the opportunity as their health condition deteriorated due to anxieties and other symptoms.
During the three-day program, the participants are to have six meetings with their relatives, each session lasting two hours. They are to meet for two group reunions, a welcome reception, one individual gathering, one joint dinner session and a farewell.
Seoul has paid keen policy attention to the issue of separated families, regarding it as an urgent humanitarian issue. Seoul’s Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said Monday that the government would continue its efforts to hold reunions on a regular basis and allow separated families to visit their hometowns in the North.
Since August 2008, the two Koreas have held family reunions in the North 19 times. They have also held video-linked reunions seven times since then.
The reunion program began after the two sides agreed to “promptly address” bilateral humanitarian issues during an inter-Korean summit in June 2000. A total of 22,547 Koreans from both sides have attended the reunions.
By Song Sang-ho and Joint Press Corps (firstname.lastname@example.org)
|Family members of Shin Young-ki from the North gather at a table during the first separated family reunion session at Mount Geumgangsan in North Korea on Tuesday. Yonhap|