South and North Koreans participating in a reunion event for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War held their first private meetings Tuesday, following group sessions a day before.
Eighty-nine elderly South Koreans and 185 North Koreans, who were chosen as participants of the first round of a weeklong reunion event held at Kumgangsan Resort on the east coast of North Korea, embraced and held each other for the first time Monday since the war that divided the Korean Peninsula.
The meetings started around 10:15 a.m. after the North Korean family members arrived at the resort, bearing gifts such as ginseng, Korean traditional seasonings and North Korean cosmetics, according to the South Korean press pool. Separate gift bags prepared by North Korean authorities included the country’s famous traditional blueberry wine.
The gifts were exchanged as the South Koreans handed their North Korean family members presents they had prepared back home.
They spent about three hours privately in their hotel rooms, with packed lunches delivered to the rooms. Though previous reunions often included private meetings in the itinerary, this is the first time they had organized meals in such manner.
The families also attended another group meeting, which started at 3 p.m.
Before the first part of the event wraps up Wednesday, they will meet once more in a group and have lunch together.
The second part, which will be held from Thursday to Sunday, will involve 83 North Koreans, who will reunite with their family members from the South. More than 300 South Koreans are expected to flock to the scenic slopes of Kumgangsan later this week.
The last time the family reunion event was held was in October 2015. Before August, 20 rounds of face-to-face family reunions had been held since the first inter-Korean summit in 2000.
In line with the reunion event, South Korea reaffirmed its efforts to hold such reunions regularly by consulting with North Korea on the matter, in a bid to better address humanitarian issues arising from decades of division, according to the South’s Ministry of Unification on Tuesday.
In its policy briefing to lawmakers, the ministry said it would discuss with North Korea issues related to holding the reunion event regularly, locating long-lost families and permitting people to visit their hometowns across the border, through Red Cross meetings.
The two Koreas agreed to hold the family reunion event on the occasion of the Aug. 15 Liberation Day from Japan’s colonial rule, at a Red Cross meeting held in June.
Since South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office last year, officials and experts have expressed concerns over the advanced age of the family members. While there were initially 132,124 South Korean members registered in a government database, only 56,990 remained alive as of August. Among them, nearly 86 percent of the group are 70 or older.
The family reunions were included as a clause in the agreement reached between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during an April summit in which they vowed to address humanitarian issues caused by decades of separation of families in the wake of the Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
By Jung Min-kyung & Joint Press Corps (firstname.lastname@example.org)