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 Thursday last week till tomorrow — is the first in more than three years for families torn apart by the Korean War.
In the second and last round of the event, 357 southerners were reunited with 88 North Korean relatives yesterday afternoon.
The first batch of about 80 southerners returned home on Saturday after a tearful reunion with their 174 northern relatives from Thursday last week.
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.
Bang Rye-sun, 89, also believed for decades that her brother 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 was ahead despite growing tension about the joint military drill which has come in for intense criticism from Pyongyang.
South Korea and the US, who bases about 28,000 troops in the South, are to begin their annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises today.
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 later agreed to go ahead with the reunion, 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 canceled a planned family reunion in September last year, citing the South’s “hostility.”
The North’s state Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Saturday continued to heap criticism on the drills, accusing Washington of trying to hamper the improvement in cross-border ties.
“The US is welcoming the family reunion only with words ... but its secretary of state, during a recent visit to the South, emphasized that the joint drills should go ahead as planned,” the newspaper said in an editorial.
Millions of people were separated from their spouses, parents, children and siblings during the chaos and devastation of the conflict six decades ago.
The two Koreas remain technically at war after the conflict ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, with cross-border mail, telephone calls and other civilian communications banned.
Most separated families have died without seeing or hearing from their loved ones again.
About 71,000 in the South — mostly aged above 80 — are still alive and wait-listed for the highly competitive reunion spots.
Only about 100 people on each side are chosen for each reunion based on a lottery.