Family reunion under way as South Korea-US drill looms
February 24, 2014 - 6:59:41 am
SEOUL: A second group of South Koreans met North Korean relatives yesterday at a reunion for families divided for decades, a day before South Korean-US military exercises that threaten to sour relations.
The reunion — held at the North’s Mount Kumgang resort from last Thursday till this Tuesday — is the first in more than three years for families torn apart by the 1950-53 Korean War.
In the second and last round of the event, 357 southerners met 88 North Korean relatives yesterday afternoon. The first batch of about 80 southerners returned home Saturday after a tearful reunion with their 174 northern relatives from Thursday.
Ryoo Jung-Hee, 69, called it a “miracle” that her 81-year-old brother — dragged to the army at the age of 17 and long believed dead — was alive in the North and looking for her.
“We even had his death certificate issued a long time ago... it was like a miracle when we heard he was alive and was looking for us,” Ryoo said before departing Seoul yesterday. “I still can’t believe this is real,” she said.
Bang Rye-Sun, 89, also believed for decades that her brother five years her junior had died during the war — until she got a call that Sang-Mok was looking for his big sister. “I really want to tell him, ‘Thank you so much for staying alive’,” she said before departing for the North.
The much-anticipated event went ahead despite growing tension about the joint military drill, which has come in for fierce criticism from Pyongyang.
South Korea and the United States, which bases about 28,000 troops in the South, will Monday begin their annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises.
The allies describe the drills as defensive in nature but the North habitually condemns them as a rehearsal for invasion. It threatened earlier this month to cancel the reunion if Seoul pushed ahead with them.
The North however later agreed to go ahead with the event, in what was seen as a concession aimed at improving ties. Relations were icy last year when the North issued a series of threats against Seoul and cancelled a planned family reunion in September, citing the South’s “hostility”.
The North’s ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Saturday continued to heap criticism on the drills, accusing Washington of trying to hamper the improvement in cross-border ties.