SEOUL: Around 400 elderly South Koreans met privately Wednesday with North Korean relatives they haven’t seen for more than 60 years, on the second day of a highly charged reunion for families torn apart by the Korean War.
In contrast to the previous day when their tearful and, in some cases, clearly traumatic meetings were played out in front of TV cameras, they were allowed two hours in their own rooms to try to bridge the decades of separation.
Millions of people were displaced by the sweep of the 1950-53 Korean conflict, which saw the front line yo-yo from the south of the Korean peninsula to the northern border with China and back again.
The chaos and devastation separated brothers and sisters, parents and children, husbands and wives.
This week’s reunion in a North Korean mountain resort is only the second to be held in five years, and the tightly controlled event — spread over three days — allows just 12 hours of actual face-to-face time.
And when it’s over, it’s really over.
The advanced age of so many participants means the chance of another meeting is almost non-existent on a divided peninsula that allows no civilian cross-border contact of any sort.
Frail and emotional
The South Koreans, some so frail they had to be moved by ambulance, arrived at the resort midday Tuesday after crossing the heavily militarized border in a convoy of buses.
After a brief lunch, they were led into a banquet hall where they first came face-to-face with the relatives who had contacted them for a meeting.
Some simply embraced and sobbed, while others stared and stroked each other’s faces, seemingly unable to believe that they were in the same room.
Photos were exchanged and lovingly pored over, including old black-and-white pictures of the family when it was together as well as recent color images of husbands, wives, children and grandchildren that neither side knew even existed.