Families long separated by the Korean War will be able to see their loved ones for the first time in years in a series of reunions starting Saturday near the border between North and South Korea.
The reunions — the first in nearly two years — are taking place through October 1 on Mount Keumgang, a North Korean resort near the eastern part of the border. Millions of families were separated by the Korean War, which ended in 1953 with a cease-fire and no formal peace treaty. No mail, telephone or e-mail exchanges exist between ordinary citizens across the Korean border. The agreement to hold the reunions came after North and South Korea held three days of talks, mediated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, last month, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported at the time. About 10,000 people applied to take part in the reunion, but fewer than 200 families were allowed to participate. Ninety-seven families were scheduled to meet Saturday and another 99 families are expected to meet next week, authorities said. Participants are selected randomly, and there is no date set for a further reunion, which means the tens of thousands of others who were separated by the Korean War have no idea when they may get a chance to see their loved ones — if ever. For the many separated family members who are elderly, a reunion may never be possible. Rapprochement talks between the two Koreas have hit a wall since conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in early 2008 with a tougher stance toward the North than his liberal predecessor, Roh Moo-Hyun. The two Koreas have remained in conflict since the conclusion of the Korean War in 1953. Last month, officials from both sides had the first high-level, cross-border contact in nearly two years when South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In Taek met with North Korean unity leader Kim Yang Gon. The meetings and reunions are in stark contrast to the tense public statements each side made about each other earlier this year. Tensions between the two were heightened in July when North Korea launched seven short-range missiles toward the Sea of Japan. The launches came after North Korea conducted a nuclear test on May 25 and threatened the United States and South Korean ships near its territorial waters. South Korea condemned the action, calling the launches “unwise.”