SEOUL, South Korea – A North Korean woman wept as she embraced her 100-year-old South Korean mother for the first time since 1951 on Tuesday, during a fresh round of reunions of divided families – the latest sign of warming ties between the Koreas.
Amid the tears of joy, however, there was sadness: A 75-year-old South Korean who had been trying for nearly a decade to reunite with his family in North Korea threw himself in front of a train near Seoul because he was not among the hundreds selected for the reunions.
The six days of highly emotional reunions – the first in nearly two years – began Saturday at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain. The first group of more than 120 South Koreans returned to Seoul on Monday after three days, and a second group of about 430 South Koreans went to the North on Tuesday.
South Korea’s YTN television showed footage of 75-year-old Ri Hae Kyong, a North Korean, hugging her centenarian South Korean mother, Kim Yu-jung. The daughter, just 16 when she disappeared during the 1950-53 Korean War, used a handkerchief to wipe away her mother’s tears.
“It’s been 60 years, and I’ve been missing you even in my dreams,” Ri told her mother and two sisters, the Yonhap news agency reported. “You are now 100 years old, and I thought I would never see you again.”
North Korea agreed last month to allow the meetings and other reconciliation ties with South Korea as part of efforts to reach out to its wartime rival following more than a year of tensions, largely over the North’s nuclear program. About 900 Koreans will be reunited during the two sessions, according to the organizer, South Korea’s Red Cross.
South Korea selects reunion candidates by computerized lottery, while North Korea is believed to choose those loyal to the party.
One man who had tried unsuccessfully since 2000 to take part in the reunions died Monday after throwing himself in front of a subway train near Seoul, YTN said.
Red Cross officials said the man, surname Lee, fled south during the Korean War from a town in eastern Kangwon Province. In a reunion application, he described his longing to see his parents, sisters, brother and other relatives in the North.
Police in Suwon, just south of Seoul, said they could not confirm the YTN report.
Since 2000, more than 16,200 Koreans have held brief face-to-face reunions with relatives. About 3,740 others have seen their relatives by video. Of some 127,000 South Koreans who applied to take part in the reunions, more than 39,000 have died waiting for an opportunity, the Red Cross said.
Millions of families remain divided between North and South Korea. The two Koreas technically remain at war since the conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. Ordinary Koreans cannot mail, phone or email one another across the border.