Regular reunions required
The governments of South and North Korea resumed reunions of families separated by the Korean War (1950-53), allowing 97 people from the South to meet 229 relatives from the North at Mount Kumgang over the weekend.
It was the first time in nearly two years reunions were allowed to take place. Another 449 South Koreans will meet 99 Northerners for three days starting today.
It is good news that the reunions, which had been put off by the rapid deterioration of inter-Korean relations, have been reactivated.
This year’s reunion is particularly notable since the families of a South Korean prisoner of war and a sailor who was kidnapped in 1987 were included. This is almost certainly a meaningful event for the two families.
However, for those whose families were captured during the war or kidnapped by North Koreans and are still waiting for their turn to meet, it is heartbreaking.
According to a government estimate, there are roughly 560 South Korean prisoners of war and 494 South Koreans who were abducted still living in North Korea.
There have been 17 reunions, including the most recent one, since 2000, but only 28 prisoners of war and abducted South Koreans have been able to meet their families.
It is sad to see so few families being allowed to meet. We believe a separate consideration for prisoners of war and abducted persons should be provided.
Of course the more important issue is to make the reunions regular, regardless of the relationship between South and North Korea. It is the right and the humane thing to do.
As of last month 127,000 people had signed up for the reunion.
One third of that number, or 47,000 people, passed away while waiting for their turn to meet their families.
Of those who are still alive, 75 percent are already more than 70 years old. These people don’t have much time to wait.
The reunions of separated families should be expanded and made regular as a humanitarian gesture between North and South.
Under such circumstances it is regrettable that Jang Jae-on, North Korea’s chairman of the Central Committee of the Red Cross Society, considers this year’s reunion to be a special favor and therefore expects South Korea to respond in kind.
The governments of South and North Korea have to remember that these reunion events should not happen as a favor or as a special consideration but as an act of pure humanitarianism.