South Korea and North Korea share the world’s most heavily fortified border in the world, but that won’t stop South Korea – North Korea family reunions from taking place this week.
The reunions, which will take place between Feb. 20 to Feb. 25 and reunite family members separated for more than 60 years, almost didn’t take place. North Korea, which backed out of scheduled Korean family reunions in September, threatened to pull the plug on the reunions if South Korea and the United States went forward with their plans for joint military drills – exercises Pyongyang has suggested are exercises designed to practice for an invasion of North Korea.
The Korean family reunions will be the first to take place since 2010. Those who were scheduled to reunite with family members in September were given the opportunity to participate in this round of reunifications. Unfortunately, five of the scheduled participants – three from North Korea and two from South Korea – have died since September.
Most of the people involved in the reunions are elderly. According to a report in The Guardian, The average age of South Koreans participating is 84. The oldest of the South Koreans headed through the DMZ to meet with family members at a resort at North Korea’s Mount Kumgang is 96 year old Kim Seong-yun. According to a CNN report, 19 of the South Koreans making the trip are in wheelchairs. At least one was being carried on a stretcher and two were being transported by ambulance.
South Korea -North Korea family reunions took place periodically between 2000 and 2010, but each of the Korean family reunification events were limited in the number of participants they could allow. Over 130,000 South Koreans applied for the reunification events in the millennium’s first decade, but only about 18,000 were able to have face-to-face reunions with their relatives in North Korea. Another 4,000 were able to reunite via video.
Among those who are participating are Kim Se-rin,a former middle school teacher who fled the North in 1951 and who will be reuniting with his younger sister, and Gong Neung-huan, a 93 year old South Korean who was separated from his wife during the Korean War. According to a report in The Telegraph, Gong said:
“I was separated from my wife in 1951, just four months after the marriage. I did not know my wife was pregnant. When I applied for the reunion, I heard that I have a son born in North Korea. As I don’t know anything about him, I have lots of questions for him. I also wonder whether he looks like me.”
According to a report in The Province, analysts suggest that North Korea – which has recently been the object of UN human rights violation investigations -may be going forward with the Korean family reunions in hope of attracting foreign investment or aid.
The South Korea – North Korea family reunions are expected to involve 88 North Koreans and 361 South Koreans.
[Top Image By Yamchae.deviantart.com/]