Joy and heartbreak as reunions start today
That’s how time has slipped by for Han Ja-ok, 83, who was drafted to fight for North Korea when the Korean War broke out in 1950.
“My daughter was unborn when I was taken to fight in the war,” said Han, who will attend a reunion of families divided by the war in November. “This is the first time I will be seeing her.”
Han, originally from South Pyongan, was captured by South Korean troops in North Chungcheong, and he believed his wife and child were lost to him forever. He currently lives in Busan and will be meeting with his 59-year-old daughter and her husband. His wife refused to take part in the reunion.
Han says he still doesn’t know what he will say to his daughter.
Han is one of 96 South Koreans who will be making the trip next week to North Korea’s Mount Kumgang resort to meet with family members they believed were lost forever. From Nov. 3-5, the 96 South Koreans will meet with 207 family members living in the North.
And starting today and through Nov. 1, 97 North Koreans will be reunited with 447 South Korean relatives from whom they were separated during the Korean War.
The last family reunions took place in September 2009.
Emotional reunions have been held since 2000. Prior to 2000, only one small reunion was held in 1985.
From 2000 to 2007, an average of two reunions were held each year at the Mount Kumgang resort until the meetings were halted in 2008 when a South Korean tourist who wandered away from the main resort buildings was shot and killed by a North Korean soldier.
Since 2000, nearly 17,100 separated family members have met face-to-face, and 3,748 have taken part in video-conference reunions, according to data from South Korea’s Ministry of Unification.
But many of the separated family members are getting old and nearing the end of their lives. As of late September, 128,232 South Koreans were registered for reunions with the Red Cross, but only 83,292 are still alive. The South Korean government believes there are 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans who have family members in the North.
Seoul wants to regularize the reunions and hold them on a bigger scale so that more families can be reunited before elderly members die. One South Korean candidate had to cancel her slot in the current round after her North Korean cousin died. Another round of Red Cross talks will be held Nov. 25 to discuss reunions and other issues.
By Christine Kim [email@example.com]