Separated families bid tearful farewell after 3 days of reunions

MOUNT KUMGANG, North Korea, (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap), Hundreds of South and North Koreans bid a tearful farewell following their first temporary reunions after decades of separation due to the 1950-53 Korean War.

Eighty-nine elderly South Koreans crossed the heavily fortified border into the North to join the family reunions held for three days until Wednesday.

They met 185 people from North Korea found alive in the impoverished country on six occasions, which gave them a combined 12 hours of face time. They held their last farewell meeting on Wednesday and ate lunch before leaving for the South in buses.

"Don't cry, and goodbye!" said Han Shin-ja, 99, with teary eyes, looking through a bus window at her weeping daughters.

"Mother, be healthy," said Kim Kyong-yong, her 71-year-old daughter from the North. She burst into tears.

"Let's meet again if (the two Koreas) are reunited," Pak Son-bun, a 73-year-old North Korean woman, shouted at her South Korean brother Ki-dong seated in a bus. "You should live long and healthy until that day comes."

He waved back and knocked on the window next to him, bidding a heartbreaking final farewell to his sister and other North Korean families, who came to see him off and stood there long after the bus was gone.

The reunions marked the first of their kind since October 2015. They were a follow-up on an agreement the two countries' leaders reached in an April summit to address growing humanitarian issues arising from war-torn family separations.

A second round of family reunions is also scheduled from Friday through Sunday. A total of 83 North Korean people will reunite with their families living in the North. More than 300 South Koreans will travel to Mount Kumgang for that event.

The reunions came amid a thaw in inter-Korean relations that culminated in summits in April and May between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Their third summit is expected to take place in Pyongyang next month.

There are about 57,000 South Koreans wishing to reunite with their family members who might be living in the North. Before this week's reunions, the two Koreas had held 20 rounds of such events since their first inter-Korean summit in 2000.

The two countries technically remain at war as the Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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