Emotions run high as 2 Koreas wrap up temporary reunions

AP News
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Posted: Oct 26, 2015 1:55 AM
Emotions run high as 2 Koreas wrap up temporary reunions

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A 98-year-old South Korean man took off his black coat and muffler and gave them to his coughing North Korean son on Monday as they parted again — likely for good after briefly reuniting for the first time since war tore them apart more than 60 years ago.

"Father, please live to 130. I'll live to 100," 70-year-old Ri Dong Wuk told his father, Lee Seok-ju, during their farewell meeting at North Korea's scenic Diamond resort.

"Thanks for saying that, but I'm not sure if that can happen," the father replied. "I'll try to live long."

Monday brought the conclusion to two sets of three-day reunions of hundreds of Koreans who had not seen each other since they were separated during the turmoil of the 1950-53 Korean War. It wasn't clear when reunions would be held again between the Koreas, whose combat-ready troops still face each other along the world's most militarized border.

The reunions were highly emotional affairs, with the participants, many in their 70s or older, eager to see their loved ones before they die.

On Monday, many wept, hugged each other and exchanged gifts before the South Korean participants boarded buses and headed back home.

"Mother, Mother! Don't cry! Don't cry. Let's be happy," a 70-year-old North Korean woman told her South Korean mother-in-law, who was sobbing silently.

A 55-year-old South Korean woman slipped a gold ring onto the finger of her 32-year-old niece before putting a necklace on her. "Let me give you presents. We have many (rings and necklaces)," she said.

This month's reunions, the first since February 2014, were agreed upon between the two Koreas during August talks aimed at easing animosities triggered by land mine blasts that maimed two South Korean soldiers.

Before this month's meetings, about 22,550 Koreans had reunited since 2000 — 18,000 in person and the others by video. None of them has been given a chance to attend a second reunion as the Koreas bar their citizens from visiting each other and exchanging letters and phone calls without special permission.

The chief of North Korea's Red Cross told South Korean reporters on Saturday that the North was willing to discuss expanding the number of participants for reunions and hold them more regularly.

It's not clear whether North Korea would go ahead with those steps without any major concessions or aid from South Korea. For Pyongyang, reunions are considered a coveted bargaining chip in negotiations with South Korea. Outside analysts say the North also remains worried about more reunions leading to its citizens being influenced by the more affluent South.