North and South Korean families held a final farewell on Saturday after they were reunited for the first time since the Korean war divided them 60 years ago, knowing they will almost certainly never be together again.
On the third and last day of their brief, emotionally-charged reunions, 80 elderly South Koreans were allowed to meet their Northern relatives for an hour before parting ways. The families, the first of two batches who are being allowed to meet with each other, have spent a total of 11 hours on six occasions together since Thursday, including mass meetings over meals and a private reunion without media TV cameras.
Southerner Kim Yong-Ja carried the portrait of her mother Seo Jeong-Suk, who died at the age of 90 just two weeks before the reunions, to a meeting with her sister from the North. “Mother, this is Young-Sil whom you wanted to see so much,” she said as she held the portrait close to the face of her sister. Kim Dong-Bin, 80, met his sisters and a brother from the North.
“I’m very happy to see you all. Stay healthy and see you again after reunification,” he said. He gave them thick winter coats, pairs of boots and his own wristwatch. Two other South Koreans had to cut their reunions short due to health issues, returning home Friday via ambulances, a media pool report said.
One of the two was Kim Sung-Kyeong, 91. “Thank you for surviving and living well,” he told his children from the North, before he was wheeled away on a gurney into an ambulance. “I don’t have any regrets now. Please bury my remains in the hills at my hometown (in the North) when reunification comes,” he told his other son, whom he fathered in the South. Tens of millions of people were displaced by the sweep of the 1950-53 Korean War, which saw the frontline yo-yo from the south of the peninsula to the northern border with China and back again.
The chaos and devastation separated brothers and sisters, parents and children, husbands and wives. Because the conflict concluded with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war. Direct exchanges of letters or telephone calls are prohibited. This week’s reunions, the first of their kind in three years, are widely being seen as a possible first step towards thawing cross-border ties.
Held at Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea near the heavily fortified inter-Korean border, they were only secured after intense negotiations.