Together at Last: for Better Future Reunions

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Together at Last: for Better Future Reunions

Although the reunion of separated families drew Seoul and Pyongyang together in an emotional event, a close analysis of the process reveals quite a number of problems. We cannot help lamenting why we did not have the foresight to avoid some of the problems in advance. The deficiencies should not be overlooked as slight flaws in an otherwise perfect occasion, if we are to expand and institutionalize the reunions. The Koreas must make concerted efforts to correct what needs to be remedied.

Many people were distressed at the utterly worn-out appearances of some of the aged members of separated families. Some were in the last stages of terminal cancer or Alzheimer's. It is possible for a disaster to take place at any moment, if the shock of reuniting with family members for the first time in half a century takes a toll on some of the delegation members already suffering poor health. Several family members had to undergo emergency medical treatment or were rushed to hospital, both in Seoul and Pyongyang. Still, we cannot obstruct their lifetime wish of reuniting with their families. Instead of having the members of separated families in poor health travel to the other side of the peninsula, we believe it is only right to allow their healthier counterparts come and visit the infirm. If the separated family includes a member in a critical state of health, his or her family members should be allowed to come to the hospital or to the house.

Only up to five members of the family were permitted for each visitor in Seoul, and many family members and relatives took turns visiting, or had to content themselves with talking on the phone. Although Rome wasn't built in a day, we feel that authorities of the two Koreas have been too preoccupied with formalities. In this regard, Prime Minister Lee Han-dong issued a timely and appropriate instruction yesterday, seeking the formulation of a plan "to expand the scope and opportunities for reunions, and to simplify the procedures." Within the great premise of diversifying and regularizing the reunions and contact between the separated family members, we should come up with measures to improve the specific procedures. Some of the separated families may succomb to depression after the brief four-day reunion. As we have pointed out repeatedly, follow-up measures such as phone and letter exchanges are badly needed.

As for media coverage, only 20 members of the press, from all the newspapers, radio and TV networks, were allowed to cover the reunion scenes. The number is simply too few. The number of press allocated to cover the reunions should be sharply increased, on the condition of coming up with appropriate regulations so that they do not interfere with the meetings. On the other hand, it was fortunate that the family members and related agents from the North appeared much more tactful than they did during the 1985 reunion. Nevertheless, some members of the delegation from North Korea made South Korean TV viewers squirm, referring endlessly to the "revered General Kim." The two sides should make efforts to refrain from such provocative statements or acts, if they are to give a greater momentum to future reunions.

Such obvious flaws as forcing old members of the separated families to wait a long time in buses or at the meeting place, or placing family members on different tables during dinner, must be corrected in the future. Relations between the two Koreas are still delicate, and could fall apart even over insignificant matters.

by Kim Young-hie

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