Divided Korean Families Reunite for the First Time in Sixty Years

Elderly North and South Koreans reunited in the North today, following extended discussions between the neighboring countries that threatened repeatedly to fall through. 

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Elderly North and South Koreans separated by war and decades of division, reunited in the North today, following extended discussions between the neighboring countries that threatened repeatedly to fall through.

A reunion between Koreans torn apart by the Korean War, which ended in a truce (but not a peace treaty) in 1953, was last held in 2010. Officials on both sides have discussed this one since September 2013, but the initial plan for a reunion was scrapped. Once the idea was resurrected, it was put on hold by North Korea in protest of scheduled joint U.S.-South Korea drills. Finally, the North agreed to uphold the commitment without condition this week.

Jang Choon stands with a picture of his youngest brother Jang Ha-choon whom he 
will meet at a reunion ceremony. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji 

The reunion brought 82 South Koreans to meet 180 North Koreans in a long-anticipated, heartfelt reunion. With an average age of 84, it was a struggle for the South Koreans to travel. Two women who needed medical help made the trip in ambulances, and more than a dozen in wheelchairs needed assistance to get on and off the bus. Some even were carried into the Mount Kumgang resort on stretchers. But it seems like the trouble was worth it to see long-lost relatives.

South Korean Lee Oh-hwan, left, 85, meets wit her North Korean family sisters. 
AP/Korea Pool, Kim Ju-sung

The reunion meeting will last from today until February 25, and will almost definitely be the last opportunity for the aging relatives to reconnect. Kim Dong-Bin, 81, is meeting her older sister, and told Agence France-Press that "this will be our first and last reunion." According to CNN, the families have not been able to communicate via phone, letters or email, over all these years.

South Korean Lee Young-shil, 87, right, meets with her North Korean sister Lee Jong Shil, 84.
AP/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun

The South Korean relatives brought bags of gifts to their loved ones, including medicine, family photos, U.S. dollars, chocolate, and dried food. Though, from the photos, this year's reunion appears just as emotional as ones in previous years, CNN reports that the presence of North Korean officials made for a more somber scene:

Past reunions have been emotional affairs with sobbing relatives clinging to each other and showing each other family photos. This time, the reunion wasn't conducted as freely as North Korean workers stood beside the tables and listened to every conversation. One North Korean resident thanked the Marshall, which is the country's leader, Kim Jong Un for his "blessing" and making the visit possible.

South Korean Park Yang-gon, left, and his North Korean brother Park Yang Soo.
 AP/Korea Pool, Park Hae-soo

The reunion comes just days after the U.N. issued a report accusing the North Korean government of committing crimes against humanity, including torture, abductions and other "unspeakable atrocities." Though the U.N. told North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that he could face prosecution, it would be tricky for the International Criminal Court to bring charges against the leader, as North Korea is not a member of the ICC. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.