World News

North and South Korea Agree to Hold Reunions of Families Divided by War

Posted June 22, 2018 10:09 a.m. EDT

SEOUL, South Korea — North and South Korea agreed to hold temporary reunions in August of families separated by the Korean War, officials said Friday, a sign of improving ties between the countries.

The officials said that 100 older citizens from each country would meet with hundreds of relatives from the other side during three days of gatherings from Aug. 20-26 at the Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea.

The reunions, organized by the Red Cross societies of the two Koreas, will include relatives who have not seen each other since they were separated during the chaos of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The meetings provide a rare glimpse of the personal pain that the long political divide has inflicted on families.

When Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, met with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea on April 27 to discuss peace and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, they also tackled the question of the separations — one of the peninsula’s most emotional humanitarian issues.

The Korean War ended in a truce in 1953, and the peninsula was then divided by the world’s most heavily armed border. Many Koreans found themselves and their loved ones on opposite sides of that frontier, called the Demilitarized Zone.

In most cases, relatives have been forbidden to exchange letters, phone calls or emails — much less to meet — for six decades.

Through the Red Cross, the two Koreas have organized only 19 similar short-term reunions since 1985.

The reunions are painfully brief, lasting only a few days before the families are once again separated. In the last round of reunions, held in 2015, fewer than 100 people from each side were selected to meet with relatives, and the gatherings lasted only three days.

Since 1988, more than 75,200 South Koreans who applied for reunions have died without seeing their parents, siblings or children again. Last month alone, 462 applicants died in South Korea, according to government data. More than 56,000 South Koreans, the majority of whom are in their 80s and 90s, are waiting to be selected by lottery.

North Korea is believed to give priority to people deemed loyal to the government when making its selection for participants.

South Korea has repeatedly called for more reunions, which are widely viewed as a barometer of relations.

Efforts to build an inter-Korean détente gained momentum in February, when North Korea sent athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, and the countries fielded a unified women’s hockey team.

The two Koreas were encouraged to discuss more trust-building projects after Kim met with President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12, the first time a North Korean leader had met a sitting U.S. president.

On Monday, representatives from the two Koreas agreed that their athletes would march under a single flag during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Asian Games in Indonesia later this year. They also agreed to hold exhibition basketball matches in Pyongyang and Seoul in the coming months.