SOKCHO, South Korea: A group of 82 elderly and frail South Koreans held an emotional reunion on Thursday with family members in North Korea, more than 60 years after they were separated by the Korean War.
The first North-South family reunion for more than three years began at about 3 p.m. with a mass gathering in the main hall of a resort on North Korea’s Mount Kumgang, a Unification Ministry official said in Seoul.
The event was the result of tortuous, high-level negotiations between Pyongyang and Seoul, which nearly broke down over the North’s objections to overlapping joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States.
The South Korean group and the 180 North Korean relatives who have come to meet them were all scheduled to dine together, with more private reunions planned for Friday.
Officials in Seoul revealed on Thursday that among the North Korean relatives were two fishermen who had been kidnapped by the North in the 1970s.
The South Korean group, with an average age of 84, had left the eastern port city of Sokcho at 8:30 a.m. on board 10 buses, with half a dozen police vehicles as escorts.
The departure was delayed as two female members of the group needed medical attention, and ended up being placed into ambulances for the journey.
More than a dozen were in wheelchairs and needed help boarding the buses, which they shared with 58 family members, brought along for physical as well as emotional support.
After crossing the heavily militarized border, they arrived at the reunion venue where a brief lunch was followed by the first sight in six decades of their long-separated relatives.
Before boarding the buses in Sokcho, some spoke of their hopes and anxieties ahead of the meetings they had dreamed of for so long.
“I think when I see her face, I won’t believe it’s real,” Kim Dong-Bin, 81, said of the elder sister he left decades ago in Pyongyang.
“I wonder if I will be able to recognize her immediately? It’s been so long,” said Kim.
All carried bags stuffed with gifts, ranging from basic medicines to framed family photos and packets of instant noodles.