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Korean families reunited after 60 years of separation
By Sam Kim
MOUNT KUMGANG, North Korea, Oct. 30 (Joint Press Corps) -- Goh Bae-il, a 62-year-old man from South Korea, could not let go of the withered hands of his 81-year-old father from North Korea when they met for the first time in 60 years on Saturday in Red Cross-arranged reunions.

   The two were separated in 1950 when the three-year Korean War broke out. The junior Goh was barely three years old and has since grown up in South Korea and the United States. The senior, a frail man who would not say how he ended up in North Korea, labored to extend his arm to his son as a teardrop rolled into the deep wrinkle under his eye.

   The reunion, one of the 97 stories of separation and longing that unfolded at this scenic mountain resort in North Korea, underscored the pain and suffering that the six decades of national division has inflicted on Korean families.

   The war technically continues to this day as it ended in a truce, blocking the citizens of the two Koreas from meeting or contacting each other freely.

   The Gohs were one of only four cases on Saturday where a parent met his or her child.

   "This must be a dream," Ji Ja-ok, 79, said as she met with her 75-year-old brother, Ji Pal-yong, who was forcefully inducted into in the North Korean army during the war.

   "We just assumed you were dead!" she said as she kept feeding her brother cookies and sweets that had been prepared on their table by the organizers of the reunion event.

   Since South and North Korea held their first summit in 2000, a total of 18 reunions have been organized for separated family members on both sides. including the one that began Saturday.

   Crying with her face buried in the laps of her 75-year-old brother, Kim Ok-ja recalled the years of longing and suffering their parents had to undergo before they passed away.

   "They lived in sadness for not being able to see you again, brother," she said. Kim Hyong-gun, patting his younger sister's shoulders, tried to console her, saying that at least they were now reunited.

   Kim Rye-jeong, 96, the oldest South Korean to travel to North Korea this week, was reunited with her 71-year-old daughter, and told her of the many nights she spent seeing the young image of her in her dreams.

   "Now you're here, now you're here," the mother told the daughter as tears welled in their eyes.

   More than 80,000 South Koreans are waiting for a chance to be reunited with their family members left in the North. The official figure does not take into account those who may have given up on their search or the 40,000 applicants who have passed away.

   Many families here brought presents that included bananas, watches, U.S. dollar bills, medicine, vitamins and clothes that would keep their loved ones warm in the North.

   The families will part again on Monday after a series of reunion meetings. There is no hope that they will meet again anytime soon.

   The latest reunions came amid a new wave of tensions after border soldiers of the two countries exchanged fire a day earlier. No casualties were reported in the incident. In March, a South Korean warship sank after being attacked by a torpedo blamed on the North.

   Analysts say the North proposed the latest reunions in an apparent effort to ease tension and foster an atmosphere favorable for its hereditary power succession plan.

   The Korean War broke out when North Korean forces stormed into South Korea in June 1950 and advanced as far as to the perimeter of the southeastern port city of Busan.

   Upon intervention by U.S.-led U.N. forces, the North rolled back, forcing many South Koreans to join its retreating army. Hundreds of then-South Korean soldiers are believed to be still living in North Korea.

   samkim@yna.co.kr
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