Members of separated families have dinner together in Mount Kumgang in the southeast of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on Aug. 20, 2018. (Photo/Xinhua)
Families of South Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, finally reunited in tears and joy as they had never seen each other for decades until Monday when the rare reunions were held in Mount Kumgang in southeast DPRK.
Eighty-nine South Koreans, mostly in their 80s or older, crossed the heavily armed border earlier in the day into the scenic mountain resort to meet their DPRK relatives they never saw since the Korean War ended with armistice that left the Korean Peninsula divided.
Han Shin-ja, a 99-year-old grandmother from South Korea, kept weeping without any word when she met her two daughters from the DPRK. She rubbed her cheek against the ones of her daughters who kept wailing and found no word to say, according to a pool report from South Korean reporters at the venue.
Han repeatedly said to her daughters "I'm sorry." She fled the DPRK after the war broke out, leaving her little ones to an aunt. At the time, Han never knew their separation would last so long.
The first session of reunions was scheduled to last until Wednesday. The second session of the three-day reunions was set to start Friday, involving 83 DPRK separated families who applied for gatherings with their South Korean relatives.
South Korean participants were mostly senior and frail, thus many of them were supported by their accompanying families or sat in wheelchairs. Some had difficulty in hearing, so their talks went on slowly.
A 101-year-old Baek Sung-gyu, the eldest South Korean participant for the first session, put on a light smile flanked by his daughter-in-law and granddaughter from the DPRK who wailed next to his wheelchair holding his shoulder.
The frail Baek had difficulty in saying a word. The daughter-in-law showed to Baek two photos of his first son who passed away in the DPRK. Baek's second son from South Korea led the conversation with the DPRK relatives.
South Korea and the DPRK agreed in June to hold the emotionally charged event, the first in nearly three years.
A combined 20 rounds of face-to-face reunions had been arranged since the first inter-Korean summit was held in 2000, but the reunions had been limited to about 200 separated families from each side. Over half of the South Koreans on the waiting list for reunions are in their 80s or older.
A 91-year-old Moon Hyun-sook was joyfully greeted by her two younger sisters from the DPRK, asking one of them "Why are you so old now?" The joy changed into tears when she heard how they have lived.
Among her seven siblings, only Moon ended up in South Korea as she moved to the South in 1947 after marriage. At the time, one of the younger sisters was eight years old, while the other had yet to be born.
Moon asked many questions about how her sisters have lived as she was the eldest daughter of her siblings. One more sister was still alive in the DPRK, but she failed to participate for frailty and sickness.
Their meeting, arranged after decades of separation, will be painfully short. They will be granted permission to meet for only 11 hours in group and private gatherings during the three-day reunions.