Korean families are reunited after 60 years

Relatives who were divided when their country was divided meet again – many for the last time

Hundreds of relatives, separated for more than 50 years after the Korean War, embraced each other in tearful reunions yesterday – a day after troops exchanged gunfire in the demilitarised zone dividing the countries.

"I thought you were dead. Mother missed you so much," Lee Min-gwan, 61, from South Korea, told his 90-year-old North Korean father, Ri Jong. "I did not forget you for a single day in the past 60 years," Ri replied to his son, who was 100 days old when they were separated during the war.

Lee was among 436 South Koreans who traveled by bus to North Korea's Diamond Mountain resort to take part in the three-day reunions with about 100 North Korean relatives. On Wednesday, about 200 North Koreans are to begin similar reunions with relatives at the same resort.

Millions of families were separated when the Korean peninsula was divided in 1945. The division was reinforced by the 1950-53 Korean War.

The reunions are emotional for Koreans, as most participants are elderly and are eager to see loved ones before they die. More than 20,800 family members have had brief reunions in face-to-face meetings, or by video, since a landmark inter-Korean summit in 2000. There are no mail, telephone or email exchanges between ordinary citizens across the heavily fortified border.

Those from the north told their southern relatives that they have led a "worthwhile lives", saying all North Koreans "have formed a big harmonious family under the care of leader Kim Jong Il," the country's official Korean Central News Agency reported.

North Korea proposed the reunions – the first in more than a year – in an apparent conciliatory move after tensions flared over the sinking of a South Korean warship in March. An international investigation concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank ROKS Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. North Korea denies any involvement.

North Korea has also freed the crew of a South Korean fishing boat seized in August. In an apparent response to its overtures, South Korea sent 5,000 tons of rice to its neighbour last week, as part of £5.3m in pledged flood aid.

However, last Friday in an abrupt reversal of the apparent thaw in tensions, there was an exchange of gun fire in the demilitarised zone as two rounds were fired at a South Korean guard post. No injuries were reported, and the reason for the attack remains unclear. But the shooting came just hours after North Korea threatened to retaliate for South Korea's refusal last week to hold military talks.

The US-led UN command – which oversees the armistice that ended the Korean War – is considering launching an investigation into the incident, a command official said, on condition of anonymity because a final decision had not been made.

The exchange highlighted the security challenges South Korea faces as it prepares to host next month's G20 summit in Seoul, just 30 miles from the border.

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, asked China on Friday to use its influence with North Korea to keep it from taking any provocative actions ahead of the summit. Mrs Clinton made the request to the Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, on the sidelines of a summit of east Asian leaders in Vietnam.

Communist North Korea has a track record of provocations against South Korea at times of internal change, external pressure or when world attention is focused on Seoul.

In 1987, a year before Seoul hosted the Olympic Games, North Korean agents planted a bomb on a South Korean plane, killing all 115 people on board. In 2002, when South Korea was jointly hosting football's World Cup with Japan, a North Korean naval boat sank a South Korean patrol vessel near their disputed western sea border.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk