N Korea hosts cross-border reunions

Hundreds of South Koreans cross into North for three-day reunion of families separated six decades ago.

Most of the participants are in their 70s or older, eager to meet their family members after decades [AFP]

More than 430 South Koreans have crossed the border to reunite with relatives in North Korea who were separated by the Korean War, just a day after troops exchanged gunfire in the demilitarised zone dividing the countries.

The three-day event in the resort of Diamond Mountain gave 97 South Korean families the chance to see relatives in the North for the first time in six decades.

The reunions, the first in more than a year, come a day after North and South Korean troops briefly exchanged fire across the border, heightening tensions before next month’s G20 summit of world leaders in Seoul, the South’s capital.

No casualties were reported following Friday’s incident.

Tearful reunions

Kim Rae-jung, 96, from the South, choked in tears as she touched the face of her 71-year-old daughter, Wu Jong-Hye, from the North.

“How are you … I could only see you in dreams,” she said.

“I’ve been living well here, mother,” said the daughter, who was left behind in the North when other family members fled to the South in 1951 to avoid advancing Chinese troops during the war.

Lee Moon-yeong, in his 70s, said he had spent a sleepless night in anticipation of seeing one of his brothers.

He had previously suspected the brother might have been killed in action after joining the North Korean army during the Korean War.

“Brothers were fighting against brothers. What a tragedy it was,” he said.

Lee’s second brother died in 1952 while fighting as a South Korean soldier.

Another group of 96 South Koreans will be reunited with 207 North Koreans from Wednesday to Friday at the same place.

Still at war

The South is still technically at war with the North because their conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Millions of Koreans were separated during the 1950-1953 war.

There are no mail, telephone or e-mail exchanges between ordinary citizens from the two Koreas. Nor can they travel to the other side of the peninsula without government approval.

Family reunions began in 2000 following a landmark inter-Korean summit. About 16,000 people from the South and the North have been able to meet since the reunions began. Nearly 4,000 others have seen relatives in video reunions.

North Korea has a track record of provocations against South Korea at times of internal change, external pressure or when world attention is focused on Seoul.

Tens of thousands of troops stand guard on both sides of the border.

In 1987, a year before Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics, North Korean agents planted a bomb on a South Korean plane, killing all 115 people on board.

In 2002, when South Korea was jointly hosting the football World Cup along with Japan, a North Korean naval boat sank a South Korean patrol vessel near their disputed western sea border.

Earlier this year, Seoul accused the North of torpedoing a South Korean warship, a charge denied by Pyongyang.

Lee Sang-hyun, a security analyst outside Seoul, said that the North was probably hoping to humiliate Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s president, before the G20.

Shooting incidents at the border are infrequent; the last was in 2007, when North Korean soldiers opened fire and the South shot back, according to the joint chiefs of staff in Seoul.

Source: News Agencies


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