South Korean Mother and North Korean Son Meet for the First Time in 68 Years

A mother-and-son who became separated during the Korean War finally met in a tearful reunion on Monday.

Lee Keum-seom, 92, ended up on the South side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), while her son, Ri Sang-chol, 71, was trapped on the North side.

Lee and Ri were among the 89 fortunate families selected to reunite under the Panmunjom Declaration, an agreement toward peace signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in April.

Over 57,000 families reportedly applied to reunite. Of those selected, more than 60% are above 80 years old.

Most separated families have no news on loved ones as both governments bar citizens from visiting and communicating across the border, the Korea Herald noted.

However, occasional reunions have been facilitated, with some 23,500 Koreans meeting in person and online since 2000.

Lee was accompanied by her two daughters, while Ri came with his daughter-in-law for the long-sought reunion at a resort near Mount Kumgang in the North. It was the first time they had seen each other in 68 years.

Ri, who became separated at the age of 4, grew up with his father who has since died.

“(My family) in North Korea didn’t live long so I prayed for my son’s health,” Lee told CNN.

She was unsure where to start catching up after all the lost years.

“What shall I ask? Oh, I should ask him what his father told him about me. His father must have told him about how we got separated and where our house used to be. I should ask him about that.”

The reunions on Monday have given separated families new hope, but time is running out for unsuccessful applicants in their prime. In South Korea, more than half of the 132,600 people who have since applied for reunions already died.

“I don’t know when he will die. He is beginning to show signs of dementia. Before he loses everything, he wants to go too,” a protester spoke for his father who was not selected. “But all he can do is to watch through television each time and get hurt.”

Since the Korean War ended in 1953, the Red Cross has helped reunite countless families, but there are simply more to accommodate.

“I share fully with the disappointment of those who are not selected so I am trying with North Korean partners to try and find other solutions, huge numbers are waiting, the numbers are very much limited,” Park Kyung-seo, the organization’s president in South Korea, told CNN.

“Imagine 73 years long without knowing whether their family members are still alive or passed away — no news at all. The agony and anger, that’s an unthinkable human tragedy.”

The first reunion runs from Monday to Wednesday, with families meeting each other on six occasions for a total of 11 hours, according to the Korea JoongAng Daily.

A second batch will run from Friday to Sunday following the same schedule.

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