180 Korean families separated war to reunite after 65 years

Vastavam web: Some 180 families torn apart by the 1950-53 Korean War will be temporarily reunited in North Korea starting Monday after the two Koreas renewed exchanges this year following a standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes. The reunions, the first in three years, will take place in the North’s tourist resort on Mount Kumgang, as agreed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their first summit in April.

More than 57,000 South Korean survivors have registered for a brief family reunion, which lasts only 11 hours and often ends in painful farewells. “I’m over 90 so I don’t know when I am going to die. 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. During his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in June, Kim pledged to abandon his country’s nuclear programmes if Washington provided security guarantees, but the two sides have since struggled to agree on how to reach that goal.

South Korean family members arrived at the coastal border city of Sokcho on Sunday to be briefed by officials on the reunion and for a brief health check-up, before crossing the border on Monday. Starting Thursday, there will be a meeting of another 88 groups of relatives, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry. The brief family reunions, which began in 1985, can be a traumatic experience for the aging survivors, they say. And time is running out, with many of them aged 80 or older.

“Most participants are elderly and many of them are suffering from hypertension, diabetes and have underlying medical conditions. Ahead of the reunions, we are thoroughly checking their health conditions so that they can attend the events as planned,” said physician Han Sang-jo. Many of the family members brought gifts for their North Korean relatives. Socks, underwear, basic winter jackets, medicine, toothpastes and food are the most common items, with gifts deemed too extravagant unlikely to pass muster with Pyongyang authorities.