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Separated families bid farewell, another reunion this year in planning

Aug. 26, 2018 - 15:49 By Ock Hyun-ju
North and South Korean family members separated for decades by the 1950-53 Korean War bid tearful farewells probably for the last time in their lives Sunday, ending two rounds of family reunions held for the first time in nearly three years.

The second round of the heart-wrenching family reunions, a reminder of the division of the Korean Peninsula, allowed 326 South Koreans to meet their families living in North Korea at the North’s Kumgangsan Resort from Friday to Sunday. For the first round, 197 South Koreans reunited with loved ones from the North at the scenic resort from Monday to Wednesday.

The South and North Korean elderly met for a final session Sunday, with many seen exchanging home addresses and handwritten letters. Fighting back tears and asking each other to stay healthy until they meet again, they prepared for a likely final farewell.

“There will be a chance for us to meet each other again, right? How unfortunate.... Family members cannot meet each other,” Park Yoo-hee, 83, told her elder sister from North Korea.

“When reunification happens,” Park Young-hee, 85, responded.

As a wailing Yoo-hee asked what if they were to die before then, Young-hee said, “I am not going to die. I am not.”

The South Koreans boarded buses to return to South Korea across the demilitarized zone at around 1:20 p.m.

Participants of the inter-Korean family reunion event bid farewell to each other at a hotel at North Korea`s Kumgangsan Resort on the North’s east coast on Sunday. (Joint Press Corps)

More family reunions this year

The two Koreas plan to hold another round of family reunions as early as October, according to Park Kyung-seo, the head of the South Korean Red Cross.

“I discussed with Park Yong-il, chief of the North Korean delegation, to hold one more round of family reunions within this year in the same way with the 21st reunion event,” Park told reporters on the sidelines of the second round of family reunions. “We decided to discuss the date and other details in working-level talks.”

“The size of the 22nd reunion will be similar to that of the current one,” the South Korean official said. “I think it will possibly take place around at the end of October, considering weather and various other conditions.”

Noting that about 3,000 to 4,000 separated family members pass away each year, Park said it would be difficult to hold reunions of separated families in the current form in the coming decade.

According to data from the Unification Ministry, as of July, 132,603 people have been registered with the government since 1988. Of them, 75,741 have died, with 62 percent of those listed aged 80 or older.

Some 57,000 people are still hoping to meet their family members in the North.

The latest of the family reunion events, which had been halted since 2015 amid growing tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, came as a result of the Panmunjom Declaration signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at their April 27 summit.

Since the two Koreas held the first reunion event in 2000 following the historic first inter-Korean summit, reunions were held nearly every year until 2015, except for 2008 and 2011-13.

By Ock Hyun-ju & Joint Press Corps