The first day of a six day reunion of family members separated by the 1950-53 Korean War was held at a North Korean mountain resort on Thursday, despite impending military drills that some experts previously warned could scuttle the event.
A total of 82 elderly South Koreans accompanied by 58 family members met with 180 North Korean relatives to enjoy an emotional reunion following six decades of separation, South Korean media outlets at the scene reported.
The reunion event, which was the first such event to take place since November 2010, will likely be the last time that family members separated by the war, now in their 80s and 90s, will get a chance to see each other.
But with joint U.S. – South Korea military drills that North Korea routinely describes as a preparation for an invasion looming, some experts had predicted that the event would be called off at the eleventh hour, as was the case in September last year.
However, a preparatory meeting held last week at the border town of Panmunjom led to an understanding between the two sides that South Korea’s military drills should not hinder the reunions.
“I wasn’t surprised the family reunions went ahead today and that they went well,” said Remco Breuker, a North Korea expert at the Univresity of Leiden in the Netherlands.
“After the publicity nightmare of the UN’s Commission of Inquiry report this week, North Korea had little choice but to show the world that it isn’t quite as bad as the UN says it is,” Breuker added, acknowledging global condemnation of the DPRK following Monday’s scathing report.
But Breuker said that the development, while positive, didn’t signify much for the future of inter-Korean relations. However, he said, “I am very glad that they went ahead, though that is purely on a personal level for the families involved.”
Yonhap News said that 79-year-old South Korean Choi Don-myeong, who was able to meet her younger brother Choi Don Gul in the North at the reunion, could not stop crying as the two siblings looked over old photos they had taken together.
Choi Ok Sil, a daughter of Don Gul, told Yonhap that despite knowing that she had an aunt living in South Korea, she always felt bad because she was not able to see her. In response, Choi Don-myeong said, “Thank you for being here to meet me,” Yonhap said.
Other South Korean media outlets published a variety of similar accounts from family members, many of which underscored the tragic circumstances many Koreans were put in following the division cemented by the Korean War.
Although the event largely took place without hiccup, Yonhap said there were delays caused by the North Korean side after a South Korean ambulance carrying the members of one family was not initially allowed access because it had not been previously agreed to.
However, the North Korean authorities finally accepted South Korea’s suggestion to allow the separated family to see each other in the ambulance, on condition that no press would be allowed to take pictures or interview them, Yonhap said.
The reunion was wrapped up at 5:02PM, with separated families from the North and South scheduled to participate in a welcoming dinner prepared by North Korea for the evening.
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