Healing their painYesterday an utterly sad moment was revisited. At a meeting room in the Mount Kumgang Hotel in North Korea, 389 South Koreans from 96 families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War burst into tears when they saw 141 North Koreans on Tuesday afternoon. The family reunions, the first following a 20-month hiatus due to tense inter-Korean relations, carry great significance - the result of a six-point agreement reached Aug. 25 between North and South Korea.
At the 20th family reunion, more than 22,700 people from South and North Korea, including those who saw their family members’ faces through video, could rejoice after 65 years of separation.
But among the 130,409 South Korean applicants registered in the Ministry of Unification’s system, 63,921, or 49 percent, are already dead, and 81.4 percent of the remaining survivors are 70 and over. Time is running out so we have to wonder if these infrequent meetings can be a real solution. While watching the televised reunions, many South Koreans shudder at the sheer pain unfolding before their eyes.
On Aug. 15, the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan, President Park Geun-hye proposed that the lists of separated families in South and North Korea be exchanged so that they could meet one another at the resort in Mount Kumgang regularly. We believe her proposal is a practical way to address their deep agony.
However, the government stopped short of making a full-fledged effort to resolve their predicament. The exchange of family lists and regular meetings have not been put on the table, not to mention the much-hoped-for exchange of letters and confirmation of the living and the dead. The government failed to meet the growing public expectations of a substantial increase in the size of the reunion and video meeting as well. It must demonstrate a determination to follow up on the president’s remarks on Aug. 15 and find a fundamental solution to address their plight on a humanitarian level regardless of the tense inter-Korean ties and ideological standoff.
The government must find a solution to the deadlock by restoring official dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang and revitalizing civilian exchanges. Only when both sides build mutual trust can a constructive conversation over diverse issues kick off. In the process, the government must put priority on devising ways to expand the reunions and hold them regularly. It is time for both sides to open a new chapter in inter-Korean relations so as to heal the deep scars in the families’ hearts.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 21, Page 34