Published: Tue, August 21, 2018
Worldwide | By Angelina Lucas

Elderly South Koreans to reunite with relatives in North

Elderly South Koreans to reunite with relatives in North

The emotional reunion came after dozens of elderly South Koreans crossed the heavily fortified border into North Korea to meet temporarily with their relatives.

The week-long event comes as the rival Koreas boost reconciliation efforts amid a diplomatic push to resolve a stand-off over North Korea's drive for a nuclear weapons programme.

"This is a photo of my father, mom", Sang Chol said, showing her a picture of his late father-and her former husband.

"I tried so hard, too, searching for you for seven years", Ri told his brother. South Korean Red Cross President Park Kyung-seo expressed frustration with the slow pace of family reunifications, a pace that is especially unfortunate given the advanced age of many participants.

Some of those selected for this year's reunions dropped out after learning that their parents or siblings had died and they could only meet more distant relatives whom they had never seen before. Some were not even sure if their relatives were alive.

Some of the South Koreans were in wheelchairs or had to be supported by accompanying family members when they boarded the buses with bags of gifts prepared for their long-lost families in the North.

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. And time is running out, with many of them aged 80 or older.

The oldest South Korean taking part is 101-year-old Baek Seong-kyu, who will be meeting his North Korean granddaughter and daughter-in-law.

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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"Whenever I saw pretty clothes, I always thought how cute they would look in them", she said. Another 3,700 exchanged video messages with their North Korean relatives under a short-lived communication program from 2005 to 2007.

They became separated in the chaos of fleeing the war 68 years ago and ended up on opposite sides of the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea, reports the BBC.

"I'm over 90 so I don't know when I am going to die", Moon Hyun-sook told Reuters.

About 180 families will be temporarily reunited in North Korea after the two Koreas renewed exchanges this year following a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

The South and North finalized the list of participants early this month.

Yonhap estimated there are about 57,000 South Koreans with living relatives in North Korea. More than 75,000 of the 132,000 South Koreans who have applied to participate in reunions have died, according to a ministry record.

But the reunions are often also tinged with frustration, with many North Koreans determined to publicly demonstrate their allegiance to the regime, out of genuine loyalty or just fear.

In a meeting with close aides at the Blue House on Monday, Moon stressed the need to hold more reunions and broaden their scale. "As a separated family member, I deeply share their sorrow and pitifulness", he said during a meeting with his aides.

A hundred people were chosen by each side to attend the reunion.

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