Koreans, split by war for 56 years, meet to say goodbye

SEOUL (Reuters) – Ninety-seven South Koreans  crossed a heavily armed border yesterday to meet family  members in the communist North in fleeting reunions arranged by  the rivals split by war and ideology more than half a century  ago. The two Koreas began reunions in 2000 for the hundreds of  thousands of divided families, but the events have been on hold  for about two years due to political tension, denying many  Koreans their dying wish to see relatives they left behind.

Most of the hundreds of thousands of South Koreans looking  for lost family members in the North are 70 or older, meaning  time is running out.

The reunion at the North Korean resort of Mount Kumgang was  an outpouring of sorrow, joy and relief as family members lost  for more than half a century were reunited.

“Don’t you have anything to say to me?” said Chung  Dae-chun, who at 95 is the oldest person to be taking part in  the three-day event, as he was reunited with his son, who is  hearing impaired and appeared older than his trim and alert  father. Destitute North Korea, stung by UN sanctions triggered by  nuclear and missile tests, has in recent months reached out to  the South, once a major aid donor, proposing renewed business  ties and resuming the emotionally charged reunions.

The 97 South Koreans are meeting 240 North Korean sons and  daughters, and brothers and sisters in Mount Kumgang just miles  from the border on the peninsula’s east coast.

Ninety-nine North Koreans who sought relatives in the South  will follow in another three days of reunions meeting 449 who  will travel from the South.
‘Don’t cry’

The weekend event included the reunion of two people who were abducted by the North after the war and one prisoner of  war captured and held in the North during the 1950-53 Korean  War. “Don’t cry.

What’s there to cry about when we are all doing  well like this?” said Yoon Jung-hwa to her sister-in-law who  was meeting her brother whose fishing vessel was abducted 22  years ago by the North off the west coast.

The North has refused to acknowledge the plight of more  than 1,000 civilians and prisoners of war believed to be alive  in the North but allowed some to take part in the reunions.

There have been 16 rounds of family reunions for about  16,000 people from both the South and the North since they  began in 2000 after a landmark summit between the rivals’  leaders that year that led to a rapid warming of ties.

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