Korean Families, Long Separated By War, Meet In Border Town

February 20, 2014

Some 80 elderly South Koreans, long cut off from family members by the Korean War, arrived in North Korea on Thursday for a brief reunion with loved ones they have not seen in decades.

About 180 North Koreans were meeting with 82 elderly South Koreans and 58 of their family members who had traveled by bus to the North Korean resort of Mount Kumgang, or Diamond Mountain. The meetings between family members will take place from February 20-25.

Business Korea reports, “Their bus trip across the militarized border came four days before South Korea and the United States kick off their annual joint military exercises, which are denounced by the North as a rehearsal for invasion.” Those exercises nearly derailed the meetings after Pyongyang sent an ultimatum to Seoul to delay them.

The BBC reports they carried gifts, including clothing, medicine and food.

“It’s hard for people to understand what it’s like when you’ve been separated so long,” South Korea Lee Du-young, who is in his late 70s, told the BBC before departing on the bus. “But it’s a true miracle; I’m so elated. All that was missing in my life was my brother, and now that I can see him again, I’d have no regrets whatsoever if I were to die tomorrow.”

“Sister, why can’t you hear me?” North Korean Ri Jong Sil, 84, asked 87-year-old Lee Young-sil, who has difficulty recognizing people because of Alzheimer’s disease, according to South Korean media pool reports.

Tears flowed down Ri’s deeply wrinkled face as Lee’s daughter began sobbing, telling her mother: “Mom, it’s my aunt. It’s my aunt. She’s your sister.”

The difference in the sisters’ family name is a product of the Korean Peninsula’s division: It’s basically the same family name, but each country uses different spelling rules in both Korean and English, The Associated Press explains.

In the past, temporary thaws in bilateral relations have allowed some families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War to meet briefly at the border.

The most recent reunion occurred in 2010, before tensions that have coincided with the rise of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stalled the reunions.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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