Several hundred elderly South and North Korean relatives clung to each other, rocking and weeping, as they met for the first time in 60 years at a reunion for families divided by the Korean War.
The emotional gathering at North Korea’s Mount Kumgang resort was the result of tortuous, high-level negotiations between Pyongyang and Seoul, which had nearly broken down over the North’s objections to overlapping South Korea-US military drills.
Television footage showed snow falling hard as 82 South Koreans — some so frail they had to be carried on stretchers — arrived at the resort in a convoy of buses to meet 180 North Korean relatives they have not seen for decades.
Inside the main hall, where numbered tables had been laid out, there were moving scenes as divided brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, step-siblings and in-laws sought each other out and then collapsed into each others’ arms.
Choi Byung-Kwan, 67, whose father was taken to the North during the 1950-53 conflict where he remarried and had seven children, broke down as he hugged his step-brother and step-sister.
“At least he had a family up here so he must have felt less lonely,” Choi said of his father. “How lonely would he have been if he didn’t have a family of his own in the North?”
A grand dinner was planned for last night and today the reunited relatives will be given the chance for more private gatherings in their guest rooms.
Millions of Koreans were separated by the 1950-53 war, and the vast majority have since died without having any communication at all with surviving relatives.
For all the joy the reunion brings, it is tempered by the realisation that — given the participants’ advanced ages — it also marks a final farewell.
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