Reunions elicit bittersweet tears-INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily

Reunions elicit bittersweet tears-INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily

Reunions elicit bittersweet tears-INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily

A group of 89 elderly South Koreans met with family members they were separated from by the 1950-53 Korean War in North Korea on Monday, officially kicking off a weeklong reunion event. Experts say the North worries that too many reunions would enlighten its citizens about the economically affluent South, and eventually weaken Pyongyang's grip on power.

Lee Keum-seom, now tiny and frail at 92, met her son for the first time since she and her infant daughter were separated from him and her husband as they fled. Lee shouted his name when she saw the now 71-year-old, before hugging him as both were overcome with emotion.

"I am very glad that I have been selected this time, I'm walking on air now", 91-year-old Moon Hyun-sook told Reuters on Sunday, a day before meeting her younger sisters in North Korea. "What shall I ask?"

Lee was split from the rest of her family, including her husband and son, in the middle of the Korean War.

After 11 hours together over the next three days, the pair will part, nearly certainly never to see each other again, and - unless something changes - they won't even be able to exchange letters.

The first reunion runs from Monday through Wednesday, with the families meeting with each other on six different occasions for 11 hours in total.

The family reunion is the result of an agreement their leaders reached in April to address humanitarian issues arising from almost seven decades of division caused by the Korean War.

"It is a shame for both governments in the South and the North that numerous families have passed away without knowing whether or not their lost relatives were alive", Mr. Moon told a meeting with presidential secretaries.

In a meeting with close aides at the Blue House on Monday, Moon stressed the need to hold more reunions and broaden their scale. The itinerary provided by the South's Korean Red Cross showed the families would interact with each other through a series of meals, but stay and sleep in separate rooms.

Many were war refugees who fled south during the war, leaving relatives behind.

A South Korean participant for a reunion sits inside a bus as she arrives at the South's CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine), just south of the DMZ in Goseong, South Korea, August 20, 2018.

Reunion events between the two countries began in 1985. But this year has seen a pause in the nuclear and missile program and an attempt, led by President Donald Trump and South Korea's Moon to find a diplomatic path out of the crisis. On the second day of the event, families are expected to be allotted several hours to reconvene, followed by a group dinner hosted by North Korea.

"It is a shame for both governments that numerous families have passed away without knowing whether their lost relatives were alive", he told presidential secretaries at a meeting.

"Expanding and accelerating family reunions is a top priority among humanitarian projects to be carried out by the two Koreas". For many, the experience has already proven to be overwhelming.

Officially ending the war was a key element of the Panmunjom Declaration, and both North and South have said they are continuing to work towards that goal, even as negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington appear to have stalled.

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