Korean Families Separated 64 Years Finally Reunited

NKOREA-SKOREA-FAMILY-REUNIONS

Families separated for six decades because of the Korean War came together in Pyongyang on Thursday finally reunited. Among them, 93-year-old Kang Neung-hwan of South Korea. It’s been 64 years since he last saw his wife, north of the demilitarized zone. CCTV’s Zhang Yilei has his story.

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Family reunions between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) almost didn’t happen. Anchor Mike Walter and International Security Analyst Jim Walsh discuss the recent tensions.

The first reunion of families separated by the Korean War in more than three years began on Thursday afternoon in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)’s Mount Kumgang resort.

The 82 elderly South Koreans, four-fifths of them over 80, reunited with 178 of their long-lost relatives from the DPRK for the first time in six decades. The mass gathering, the first event for the three-day reunion, began at 3 p.m. local time as scheduled, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

The 19th round of reunion, the first such humanitarian event since November 2010, came after top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un voiced his willingness to improve relations with South Korea in his New Year’s speech.

In response to Seoul’s call for sincerity with action, Pyongyang agreed to hold the family reunion as scheduled as the first step toward mending ties, though the annual South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises is scheduled to begin on Feb. 24, which the DPRK had urged Seoul to cancel or delay what it denounced as the rehearsal for a northward invasion.

Despite the humanitarian event launched as scheduled, urgency for frequent reunion is growing given the fast aging of members of the divided families.

Almost half of 129,264 South Koreans, who had applied for reunion since 1988, died without chance of meeting their long-lost relatives, according to the government data.

The applicants were aging rapidly, with 80 percent of the survivors older than 70. The applicants aged 80 and above account for 52.8 percent of the total at the end of 2013, up from 20.3 percent 10 years earlier.

The private Hyundai Research Institute forecast that all the separated families will pass away within 20 years given their average life expectancy, saying that the two Koreas should stage a large-scale extra reunion for those older than 80.

Family reunion center in Mount Kumgang should be constantly opened for active meetings, and at the same time, exchange of letters, video reunion and confirmation of life and death for divided families should be allowed, the think tank said.