Families Separated Since Korean War Reunite In North Korea

Lee Gyum-sum of South Korea meets with her North Korean son Lee Sung-chul during the inter Korean family reunions

Modal Trigger Lee Gyum-sum of South Korea meets with her North Korean son Lee Sung-chul during the family reunions. Shutterstock

"Do you have a son?" "This is the first time to see..."

South Korean participants for a reunion arrive at the South's CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine), just south of the DMZ in Goseong, South Korea, August 20, 2018.

Her son showed her pictures of his family in the North - including her late husband - telling her: "This is a photo of Father". Most have had no word on whether their relatives are still alive because they are not allowed to visit each other across the border or even exchange letters, phone calls or email.

Starting on Thursday, there will be a meeting of another 88 groups of relatives, 469 from the South and 128 from the North, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.

During Monday's meeting, many elderly Koreans held each other's hands and wiped away tears with handkerchiefs while asking how their relatives had lived.

However, time is running out for many ageing family members.

The oldest attendee is a 101-year-old man from the South, who is meeting his North Korean daughter-in-law and granddaughter, Yonhap reported. Not knowing their separation would be permanent, she left them behind in the North during the war while fleeing south with her third and youngest daughter.

"I never imagined this day would come", she told AFP.

Many of the North Korean women were clad in traditional dresses, known as hanbok in the South and joseon-ot in the North, and all had the ubiquitous badges of the North's founder Kim Il Sung or his son and successor Kim Jong Il, while the Southerners wore their best suits.

"Oh brother, it will be great when reunification happens", she said.

Many are bringing gifts like clothes, medicine and food for their relatives in the much poorer North.

Some dropped out after realising the relatives they had hoped to see were no longer alive, so in total there'll be 83 North Koreans and 89 from the South.

During the three years since the reunions were last held, North Korea tested three nuclear weapons and multiple missiles that demonstrated they potentially could strike the continental United States. Some experts say warming inter-Korean relations could suffer a setback if the North refuses to accept a US -led call for complete nuclear disarmament, and that is expected to figure into another inter-Korean summit set for next month in Pyongyang. North Korean leader Kim Jon Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed in April to resume holding the family visits, as part of efforts to improve diplomatic relations.

In South Korea, around 132,600 individuals are listed as separated families, but the Red Cross has only identified 57,000 survivors. The Unification Ministry estimates there are now about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.

Lim Eung-bok, who is meeting his brother and his family, said: "I have so many things I want to say but there are a lot of restrictions".

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.

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