Snow awaiting reunion families

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Snow awaiting reunion families

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Vans carrying a South Korean delegation preparing for upcoming family reunions enter the snow-covered Oekumgang Hotel on Mount Kumgang on Friday. Provided by the Ministry of Unification

A South Korean delegation visiting the Mount Kumgang Resort in North Korea to prepare for the upcoming family reunions found the venue covered with heavy snowfall 10 days ahead of the much-anticipated event.

The delegation, formed of 64 officials from the South Korean Ministry of Unification, Red Cross and some technicians, visited the resort on Friday with a plan to stay there for maintenance until the reunions, scheduled between Feb. 20 and 25.

On arriving, the delegation found heavy snowfall of up to 1-meter (3.28 feet) deep that had paralyzed the resort’s heating system. The delegation had to sleep in a freezing dormitory for employees of Hyundai Asan, which used to run the resort, as the temperature hit minus 10 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit).

Photos taken by the South Korean officials show snow covering most of the resort and all roads.

The snow blocked the roads leading to Pyongyang, preventing North Korean officials from entering the resort. The officials were supposed to join the South Korean team for joint maintenance.

But the South Korean officials said the reunions can be held despite the snow.

“The condition of the facilities mostly was problem-free,” the Ministry of Unification said in a statement distributed to reporters on Saturday. “Although we need to work on clearing the snow in the Mount Kumgang area, there will be no problem carrying out the reunions as scheduled.”

According to the Ministry of Unification, a total of 180 South and North Koreans will meet their relatives during the six-day reunions and they are mostly in their 80s and 90s.

The journey to the resort will be laborious. Due to the distance, the South Korean families will stay one night in Goseong County, a border region in Gangwon province, on the way. Hundreds of staff members and assistants should follow them.

North Korea insisted on holding the reunions in the Kumgang Resort, while the South once proposed Seoul or Pyongyang, where accommodations are more hassle-free.

“It is really tough for the aged people who cannot properly move by themselves to visit the Kumgang Resort,” Lee Sang-cheol, representative of the South Korean families, said. “It’s the time for the government to mull over a fundamental solution for a better way for reunions.”

The first reunions held on Aug. 15, 2000 took place in Seoul and Pyongyang simultaneously, and families traveled to them by airplane.

Since then, North Korean officials reportedly expressed reluctance about holding reunions in Seoul, as Northern visitors would witness how developed the capitalist South is. Since the fourth reunions in 2002, all reunions were held in the Mount Kumgang Resort.

Concerns are growing in South Korea that North Korea could possibly cancel the reunions due to the snow. North Korea previously proposed to hold the reunions “in a good season,” which analysts interpreted as signifying spring.

BY LEE YOUNG-JONG, KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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