Bittersweet reunions for North and South Korean families separated by war


While the neighboring rivals persevere with their efforts toward detente, the U.S. appears increasingly frustrated with a lack of progress since President Donald Trump’s historic Singapore summit with Kim in June.

On Friday, Trump said he had directed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to delay a trip to North Korea, citing insufficient progress on denuclearization. NBC News reported in June that U.S. intelligence agencies believe Pyongyang has increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons in recent months.

North Korea’s state-controlled newspaper accused the United States on Sunday of “double-dealing” and “hatching a criminal plot to unleash a war.”

‘This is about the future’

During the reunions, family members met in a banquet hall overseen by North Korean minders, exchanging small gifts and sharing meals amid tears and fierce embraces. Because of the economic sanctions placed on the North under the auspices of the United Nations, South Koreans can only bring gifts worth around $100 to offer their relatives.

Chung Hak-soon says she has not forgotten the day that she lost her older brother during the war, only months before the July 1953 armistice ended the violence that had claimed the lives of around 2.5 million civilians.

“The village elder came looking for [him],” Chung said. “He was 16 years old.”

Image: Chung Hak-soon's sister-in-law and nephew wave goodbye to her outside the bus that will take her back to South Korea
Chung Hak-soon’s sister-in-law and nephew wave goodbye to her outside the bus that will take her back to South Korea. It is unlikely she will be permitted to meet them again.Photo courtesy Chung Hak-soon

“My brother asked what he wanted, but the elder just told him to follow,” she said. “That was the last time I ever saw him.”

With the war intensifying near her village and ever more Chinese and North Korean soldiers flooding through the area, the villagers fled to hide in caves. Chung was only 10 years old when she, her mother, and two other siblings fled through the mountains, starving, until they reached U.N. lines where they were greeted by American soldiers.

The fighting soon ended, but life in South Korea was hard at first for refugees from the North. Chung’s mother was haunted by the loss of her son.

“Whenever my mother passed by a young man of his age, she would run after him calling out my brother’s name, hoping that he’d escaped,” Chung said. But it was never him. “Then she would cry her heart out.”

“Her heart was broken until she passed away,” she added.

When this series of reunions was announced, Chung traveled to the office to apply in person.

But when the Red Cross contacted her, the news was bittersweet. Her brother had survived the war, but had passed away years ago. He had left behind a family, however, and Chung would be allowed to meet her brother’s son and widow.

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