After years of wait, hundreds of South Koreans on Tuesday headed out to North Korea for temporary reunions with their family members with whom majority haven’t had any contact with since the turmoil broke out between the two neighbours more than 60 years ago.
This is first such reunion since February last year and serves as a bitter reminder for many that the Korean Peninsula is still in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 fighting didn’t end with an peace treaty and got an armistice instead.
The lack of contact is also due to the fact that Koreans bar ordinary citizens from visiting their relatives who are living on the other side of the border and, further more, prevent them from even exchanging letters, phone calls and emails without government permission.
The toll of over 60 years of hardship and separations could been seen on Tuesday when about 390 South Koreans, some of them even on wheelchairs, arrived at a South Korean immigration office so as to be able cross the border to the other side and visit their family members.
Many of the South Korean participants told Associated Press that they were taking medicine, parkas, calligraphy works, along with some cash, so as to give to their family members in North Korea as presents.
The visit allows the travelling members to meet their children, siblings, spouses and other relatives for three days and about 140 North Koreans are expected to show up for this meeting, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.
The Unification Ministry further announced that there would also be a second round of such a meeting, which is expected to take place from coming Saturday till Monday.
Nearly 250 South Koreans are expected to visit so as to reunite with about 190 North Korean relatives.
The initiative was set-up back in August 2015, when the two Korean rivals had agreed to resume family reunions during talks to end a stand-off.
But the peace initiative has little hope as the two have a history of failing to follow through with cooperation projects.
It would be interesting to see how these reunions take place as these are only happening because North Korea didn’t go ahead with their threats to conduct a satellite launch earlier this month.
Exited about the reunion, Kim Yong-ok, a South Korean participant told AP she would attend the reunion because her brother who is in North Korea was looking for her. Till recently she did know he was alive.
“It was a real surprise, after I heard from him, my heart became full of emotion.”
Majority of the people who apply to participate in these reunions are in their 70s or even older.
The reunions also serve are extremely emotional for the because they are desperate to see their loved ones before they die.
According to Indian Express nearly half of the 130,410 South Koreans who till date have applied for these reunion have died over the years.
The selection process for these reunions in South Korea is done by a computerized lottery system while the North reportedly chooses people based on their loyalty to its authoritarian leadership.
These family reunions were part of rapprochement projects between the two Koreas and was agreed upon following their first-ever summit talks back in 2000.
Since year 2000 about 18,800 Koreans have participated in 19 face-to-face reunions, with about 3,750 more participants being allowed to talk with each other via video.