|Tearful Koreans embrace family and memories
A group of 82 elderly and frail South Koreans held an emotional reunion with family members in North Korea, more than 60 years after they were separated by the Korean War.
The first North-South family reunion for more than three years began around 3:00pm local time with a mass gathering in the main hall of a resort on North Korea's Mount Kumgang, a Unification Ministry official said in Seoul.
The South Korean group and the 180 North Korean relatives who have come to meet them were all scheduled to dine together, with more private reunions planned for Friday.
Officials in Seoul said that among the North Korean relatives were two fishermen who had been kidnapped by the North in the 1970s.
The South Korean group, with an average age of 84, had left the eastern port city of Sokcho at 8:30am on board 10 buses, with half a dozen police vehicles as escorts.
The departure was delayed as two female members of the group needed medical attention, and ended up being placed into ambulances for the journey.
More than a dozen were in wheelchairs and needed help boarding the buses, which they shared with 58 family members, brought along for physical as well as emotional support.
After crossing the border they arrived at the reunion venue where lunch was followed by the first sight in six decades of their long-separated relatives.
Before boarding the buses in Sokcho, some spoke of their hopes and anxieties ahead of the meetings they had dreamed of for so long.
“I think when I see her face, I won't believe it's real,'' Kim Dong Bin, 81, said of the elder sister he left decades ago in Pyongyang.
“I wonder if I will be able to recognize her immediately? It's been so long,'' Kim told AFP.
All carried bags stuffed with gifts, ranging from basic medicines to framed family photos and packets of instant noodles.
Some brought bags of fresh fruit which they planned to offer in a joint prayer ceremony with their reunited siblings to their late parents.
“The gifts I'm bringing to my sister should be good. Something you can't see much in North Korea so I hope she will be happy,'' said Kim Se Rin, 85.
“I've also included some US dollars for her and my younger brother,'' Kim said.
The reunion program began in earnest after a historic North-South summit in 2000, but the waiting list has always been far larger than the numbers that could be accommodated.
For all the joy the reunion brings, it is tempered by the realization that – given the participants' advanced ages – it also marks a final farewell.
“This will be our first and last reunion,'' Kim Dong Bin acknowledged, shaking his head.
All the South Korean participants had spent the night in a Sokcho hotel, where they were given an ``orientation'' course by South Korean officials listing a series of dos and don'ts for their stay in Mount Kumgang.
“They were basically telling people not to discuss any political issues and not to be swayed by North Korean propaganda,'' said Kim's wife, Shin Myung Soon.