Koreas reach out for family reunions

Updated: 2014-02-06 01:23

(AGENCIES / China Daily)

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60 years, little contact

Millions of Koreans were separated by the 1950-53 war, and the vast majority have since died without having any communication at all with surviving relatives.

 Koreas reach out for family reunions

Head of the North Korean working-level delegation, Park Yong-il (L), shakes hands with his South Korean counterpart Lee Duk-haeng after they exchanged agreements during their talks in the truce village of Panmunjom February 5, 2014. [Photo/Agency]

Because the Korean conflict concluded with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war and direct exchanges of letters and telephone calls are prohibited.

Up to 73,000 ROK citizens are wait-listed for a chance to take part in one of the reunion events, which select only a few hundred participants at a time.

The reunion program began in earnest in 2000 following a historic inter-Korean summit. Sporadic events since then have seen around 17,000 relatives briefly reunited.

But the program was suspended in 2010 following the DPRK's shelling of an ROK border island.

Pyongyang wants Seoul to resume regular tours to Mount Kumgang, which had provided a valuable source of hard currency in the past.

Seoul suspended the tours after a woman tourist was shot dead by DPRK security guards in 2008, and it has repeatedly rejected any efforts to link their resumption to the family reunion issue.

Pyongyang is also pushing for a resumption of Six-Party Talks on its nuclear program — a long-stalled process involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Seoul and Washington insist substantive dialogue can only begin after Pyongyang demonstrates a tangible commitment to abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

Past family reunions have been hugely emotional — almost traumatic — affairs, with many of the elderly participants breaking down and sobbing as they cling to each other.

The events typically last several days and the joy of the reunion is tempered by the pain of the inevitable — and this time permanent — separation at the end.