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Amid tears and anger, Korea's family reunions take place



Seoul, Feb 21, 2014: At nine o'clock Thursday morning, 82 South Koreans set off for Mt Geumgang in North Korea's Gangwon Province to reunite with family members from whom they were separated for 61 years by war and the subsequent division of the Korean Peninsula.

For many of them Thursday's meeting will be the first and only opportunity to get to know each other. Most of the participants are very old. They gathered yesterday in Sokcho, a town not far from the Demilitarised Zone. Although the registration period was not scheduled to begin until 2 pm, most arrived early at the designated meeting point. 200 volunteers, and 12 medical staff, who closely monitor their health conditions, accompanied them.

The two Koreas agreed on 5 February to organise a family reunion at a resort on Mount Kumgang, on North Korea's east coast, between 20 to 25 February. Despite threats of various kinds and the ongoing diplomatic tug-of-war, the meetings appears set to go as planned. These are the first reunions since 2010. Some were organised for September 2013 but were cancelled a day before by the North.

Family reunions were held for the first time in 1985. They were a "goodwill gesture" by the two Korean governments, but were never formally institutionalised. To take advantage of this opportunity, South Koreans who can prove that they have a living relative on the other side of the border must register with the South Korean Ministry of Unification. When the programme started, 130,000people applied; at present, only 71,000 or so are still alive. From this long list, the South Korean government has drafted several lists by order of seniority and degree of relationship. The priority is given to the oldest applicants who can handle the physical and mental stress that reunions entail and those whose next of kin are sons, brothers or sisters.

A list of about a thousand names was established, and the ministry had a computer randomly select the names during a televised lottery. Some names are held in "reserve" in case something unforeseen happens at the last moment. Once an applicant takes part in a reunion, his or her name is taken off the list. Nothing is known about how North Korea picks its applicants.

(Source: AsiaNews)




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