South Korea and North Korea to Hold Another Round of Family reunions

Michael Song, Aug. 27, 2018, 9:04 a.m.

A second round of reunions of families separated by the Korean War came to a close at the Mt. Kumgang resort in North Korea on Sunday.

Some 81 families were reunited for three days, centering on elderly participants from North Korea. Earlier, 89 South Koreans were reunited with their family members who live in North Korea. The total should have been 100 elderly people from each side, but some were no longer able to travel.

The reunions were the first in almost three years and come amid a thaw in cross-border ties spurred by a summit between the two sides in late April.

But the format is too restrictive to cover the thousands more who hope to be reunited with their families before they die, and only gives families a few strictly supervised hours in each others' company.

Only for three hours were they allowed to meet away from the prying eyes of their minders and the press in their hotel rooms.

Some 75,741 of the 132,603 people who registered with the Unification Ministry for family reunions have already died, and 62.6 percent of the surviving applicants are over 80. Some 3,000 applicants died in the first half of this year alone.

So far only 4,800 South Koreans have met their relatives from the North in a total of 21 rounds of family reunions, which suggests that if things progress at this laborious pace, most will have died before their turn comes.

A former ministry official said, "What's most urgent is to identify whether the members of all separated families are alive or not. The next important thing is to make the reunions a regular fixture."

South Korea has repeatedly called for regularizing the reunions, but the North has refused because it prefers to use them as a bargaining chip.

"We've talked with North Korean officials about holding another round of family reunions this year," Park Kyung-seo, the president of the Korean Red Cross, told reporters at Mt. Kumgang on Saturday. "The next round could be held in late October if the weather permits and everything goes well."

They also discussed the possibility of video conferencing and allowing participants to visit their hometowns to pay respects at the graves of dead family members.

But Pak Yong-il, the chief of the North Korean delegation, made no specific commitments, saying, "We'll discuss that in the future."

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