Shadow of Kim's spies tempers joy of reunion

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The Independent Online

The sinister politics of the North Korean regime cast a long shadow over the emotional scenes as elderly North and South Koreans separated by civil war continued their three days of family reunions yesterday.

The sinister politics of the North Korean regime cast a long shadow over the emotional scenes as elderly North and South Koreans separated by civil war continued their three days of family reunions yesterday.

In Seoul, accompanying government officials followed 100 elderly visitors from North Korea around, eavesdropping on their conversations and prompting their answers.

There were also demonstrations by a few of the 77,000 South Koreans seeking to trace family members in the North who have been excluded from this week's reunions.

Thirty officials from the authoritarian North, and 20 others listed as "journalists", are accompanying the visitors from Pyongyang. During a visit to a history museum in Seoul, the North Korean family members were outnumbered by escorts and minders, and spoke only reluctantly to journalists. Asked to comment on the historical exhibits, one man said that he would have liked to have seen more of a focus on the achievements of the late Kim Il Sung, the ally of Stalin and post-war founder of North Korea.

Scarcely a single reunion has taken place without some mention of Mr Kim, or his son, Kim Jong Il, the North's present ruler, from whose inspiration and wisdom the success of the event is said to derive.

"Our dear general Kim Jong Il sent me here to let me see you before you die," a weeping 66-year-old man, Lim Jae Hyok, said on Tuesday as he bowed before his 91-year-old father.

"I was born here but my real home is in the North, where I and my family are living a happy life in the benevolent care of the Great Leader Kim Jong Il," said 68-year-old Yoo Jang Soon yesterday, a day after meeting her three sisters for the first time in 50 years.

The members of the North Korean delegation are immediately recognisable by their lapel badges bearing the image of Kim Il Sung; some wear identical suits, which have also been provided by the government. Even while they are with their families, they are only rarely out of sight of their escorts. One unfortunate man, an elderly North Korean doctor named Paek Nam Bok, was chastised by one of them as he stuttered in front of a group of journalists. "Be open, and be comfortable," growled the official. "Do not be shy." Not surprisingly, the exhortation had the opposite effect.

Throughout the day, the visitors were accosted by South Koreans carrying signs and sandwich boards bearing the names of relatives in the North.

"I don't know whether they are alive or dead," said 70-year-old Kim Sang Il, who left behind his parents and four brothers and sisters when he came to school in the South in 1948. "Maybe one of these people knows my family or can pass a message to them." But, flanked by their minders, the passing visitors shied away.

The exchanges take place on the 55th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, when Korea was liberated after 35 years of Japanese colonisation. The 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice but without a formal peace treaty.

Finally, in June this year, the South Korean president, Kim Dae Jung, travelled to Pyongyang to meet Kim Jong Il in the first-ever summit meeting between leaders of the two governments. The two signed a communiqué promising to move towards reunification, and this week's reunions are the most concrete and psychologically powerful results so far.

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