Korean families: Buses cross DMZ into North Korea for rare reunions

A group of mostly elderly South Koreans crossed into North Korea Monday to reunite with family members many ...

Posted: Aug 20, 2018 2:53 PM
Updated: Aug 20, 2018 2:53 PM

A group of mostly elderly South Koreans crossed into North Korea Monday to reunite with family members many haven't seen nor heard from since the Korean War broke out 68 years ago.

The reunions are the first since 2015, agreed to under the Panmunjom Declaration signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an historic summit earlier this year.

Asia

Continents and regions

East Asia

Families and children

Family life

International relations

International relations and national security

North and South Korea conflict

North Korea

Society

South Korea

Treaties and agreements

Unrest, conflicts and war

Kim Jong Un

Political Figures - Intl

Conflicts and wars

Korean War

North Korea nuclear development

More than 57,000 people had been hoping to take part in the reunions, but of those only 93 families were selected, four of whom had to pull out at the last minute due to health reasons.

More than 60% of those seeking reunions are over 80 years old, and are being accompanied on the bus trip north by their children and other relatives.

Long awaited reunions

The South Koreans gathered Sunday at the Hanwha resort hotel, in Sokcho, south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas, where medical checks were carried out and participants were warned about nuances of visiting North Korea. They're told to avoid saying anything that could be misconstrued, or considered insensitive north of the border.

Participants were applauded by Red Cross workers as they arrived, some in wheelchairs, passing under banners reading "We sincerely congratulate the reunions of the separated families!"

In the hotel there was an air of excitement and tension as they prepared to meet husbands, wives, brothers, sisters and children who are now only vague memories, their faces blurred by time.

They then registered their names and were invited to take a professional family photo in a corner of the lobby. It was then framed for them so they could then take it to North Korea as a gift.

Lee Keum-seom, who was preparing to see her son for the first time since he was four years old, said she had prayed for him to have a long life so the pair -- now 92 and 72 respectively -- could reunite.

"(My family) in North Korea didn't live long so I prayed for my son's health," she said.

She felt nervous about meeting her now elderly son, after only knowing him as a small child, unsure about where to start catching up on a lifetime spent apart.

"What shall I ask?" she said. "Oh, I should ask him what his father told him about me. His father must have told him about how we got separated and where our house used to be. I should ask him about that."

Park Kyung-seo, president of the South Korean Red Cross, told CNN that while he was overjoyed to be assisting in family reunions, the small number of those taking part was a "human tragedy."

"I share fully with the disappointment of those who are not selected so I am trying with North Korean partners to try and find other solutions, huge numbers are waiting, the numbers are very much limited," he said.

"Imagine 73 years long without knowing whether their family members are still alive or passed away -- no news at all. The agony and anger, that's an unthinkable human tragedy."

Ahn Seung-chun was headed to North Korea to see family members she's never met. "I applied to see my older brother," he said. "But he passed so I'll never see him now."

"I'm going to see my nephew and my brother's wife," she added. On one hand, I'm sad that I won't see my brother. But on the other hand, I'm happy to meet the nephew. At least I will be meeting a fruit of my father."

Dokgo Ran was separated from his entire immediate family during the Korean War, and never expected to see them again.

"The Red Cross asked around for my family and helped me reunite. I'm grateful," he said.

Bittersweet process

In the decades since the Korean War, the Red Cross has reunited many families but thousands of others have missed out.

As family members age, each delay adds to fears that they'll no longer be around to finally meet with their long lost relatives. More than 75,000 applicants have already passed away since the reunion process began.

One protester attended Sunday's event to voice his elderly father's case for a reunion, after the man was unlucky this round.

"I don't know when he will die. He is beginning to show signs of dementia. Before he loses everything, he wants to go too," Kim Seong-jin said. "But all he can do is to watch through television each time and get hurt."

Amid all the joy and happy scenes on both sides of the border this week, this is the reality for most whose families remain split by the Korean War.

"My father is all alone here in the South. Can you imagine how much he misses his family?" Kim said. "He wants to hear the news of his hometown before he dies."

Legacy of war

The pain felt by the families split by the Korean War is one of the most visible legacies of the conflict which, 68 years after it began, still hasn't technically ended.

An armistice agreement which paused fighting in 1953 never became a formal peace treaty, and small skirmishes have happened since on either side of the heavily fortified DMZ, even as North Korea has built up its nuclear armaments and the US has maintained a heavy military presence in the South.

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.

North Korean state media called on the US to agree to an official end to the war last week, saying it was a "preliminary and essential process to pave the ground for detente and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula."

"The U.S. should implement phased and simultaneous measures, like the end-of-war declaration, to build mutual trust and make a breakthrough in the security of the world," state media Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary.

As well as the family reunions, Saturday saw the fulfillment of another commitment made by Moon and Kim, as a joint Korean team marched in the opening ceremony of the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.

That move came after a unified Korean team took part in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea earlier this year, negotiations over which helped kick start a breakthrough in North-South relations and lead to the current detente on the Peninsula.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 126591

Reported Deaths: 2334
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin32743974
Ramsey13510352
Dakota9389136
Anoka8216150
Stearns548540
Washington534568
Scott323434
Olmsted312529
St. Louis273865
Wright231414
Nobles217416
Clay209343
Blue Earth19797
Carver17147
Kandiyohi16004
Rice15869
Sherburne158321
Mower149415
Winona120918
Lyon9336
Crow Wing92021
Waseca9189
Chisago8902
Benton8625
Beltrami8137
Otter Tail7836
Todd7415
Steele7332
Nicollet68917
Itasca68817
Freeborn6474
Morrison6438
Douglas6243
Martin59916
Le Sueur5915
McLeod5734
Watonwan5724
Goodhue52911
Polk5274
Pine5160
Becker5053
Isanti5044
Chippewa4043
Carlton3921
Dodge3700
Mille Lacs36411
Hubbard3352
Wabasha3320
Pipestone33016
Cass3285
Meeker3123
Brown3073
Rock3041
Yellow Medicine2685
Cottonwood2640
Murray2583
Redwood25111
Fillmore2410
Sibley2403
Renville23311
Faribault2140
Roseau2110
Jackson2011
Wadena2011
Unassigned19553
Swift1921
Kanabec19110
Houston1831
Lincoln1710
Pennington1701
Stevens1691
Koochiching1634
Aitkin1572
Pope1480
Big Stone1290
Lac qui Parle1263
Wilkin1264
Lake1080
Mahnomen1011
Norman1010
Grant904
Marshall901
Clearwater880
Red Lake612
Traverse540
Lake of the Woods431
Kittson330
Cook110

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 109660

Reported Deaths: 1580
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk18245283
Woodbury689694
Johnson568330
Black Hawk530098
Linn5173128
Dubuque479754
Scott413437
Story389818
Dallas333744
Pottawattamie303244
Sioux231714
Buena Vista221312
Marshall194736
Webster174014
Plymouth157126
Wapello148362
Clinton138226
Muscatine136958
Crawford132412
Des Moines12819
Cerro Gordo127823
Warren11716
Carroll105210
Jasper103634
Henry9995
Marion94810
Tama91137
Lee89810
Delaware7099
Dickinson7017
Wright6981
Boone6869
Mahaska64024
Bremer6299
Washington61811
Harrison5928
Jackson5463
Benton5291
Lyon5257
Clay5014
Louisa49815
Hamilton4543
Winneshiek4519
Winnebago44718
Hardin4445
Kossuth4430
Poweshiek43911
Floyd41911
Jones4173
Emmet41217
Cedar4115
Buchanan4054
Iowa3858
Cherokee3762
Franklin37518
Guthrie37415
Sac3724
Page3680
Clayton3583
Butler3502
Mills3501
Shelby3501
Fayette3483
Cass3452
Madison3442
Allamakee3358
Chickasaw3301
Clarke3193
Humboldt3003
Palo Alto2932
Hancock2924
Grundy2855
Calhoun2784
Howard2589
Osceola2540
Monroe24911
Mitchell2360
Monona2331
Taylor2252
Union2174
Pocahontas2142
Jefferson2101
Appanoose2093
Lucas1916
Fremont1861
Ida1812
Greene1800
Van Buren1642
Davis1624
Montgomery1595
Adair1471
Keokuk1451
Decatur1400
Audubon1371
Worth1330
Wayne1133
Ringgold822
Adams700
Unassigned90
Rochester
Overcast
34° wxIcon
Hi: 34° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 24°
Mason City
Overcast
35° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 25°
Albert Lea
Overcast
34° wxIcon
Hi: 35° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 23°
Austin
Overcast
36° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 28°
Charles City
Overcast
36° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 25°
Tracking another round of snow for the weekend
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Get to know the candidates from Iowa's 4th Congressional District

Image

Church community garden fights hunger

Image

Give to the Max Day is November 19th

Image

Olmsted County gives COVID-19 update

Image

Sara's Evening Forecast - Thursday

Image

Emergency landing at RST

Image

American Heritage Girls project

Image

NIACC funding to boost internet

Image

Salvation Army Coat Drive

Image

Good Jobs Now campaign

Community Events