Koreans get chance to hug long lost loved ones

North Korean Lee Jong Shil, 84, (left) meets her South Korean sister Lee Young Shil, 87. Photo / AP
North Korean Lee Jong Shil, 84, (left) meets her South Korean sister Lee Young Shil, 87. Photo / AP

A 93-year-old South Korean man who was separated from his pregnant wife during the 1950-53 Korean War has met the 64-year-old son he had never seen.

"So old," were his first words as they came face-to-face - the resemblance strikingly clear to people watching. "Let me hug you," the father said and then, sobbing, they both embraced.

About 80 elderly South Koreans met privately yesterday with North Korean relatives they haven't seen for 60 years, the second day of a highly charged reunion for families divided by the Korean War.

In contrast to the previous day when their tearful and, in some cases, clearly traumatic meetings were played out in front of TV cameras, they were allowed three hours in their own rooms to try to bridge the decades of separation.

The event, held at a mountain resort in North Korea, was secured only after intense North-South negotiations, and has been seen by many as a possible first step towards improved inter-Korean co-operation.

It is the first reunion for more than three years, and followed a rare concession from North Korea, which had originally threatened to cancel if the South and the United States pushed ahead with annual joint military drills that begin on Monday.

North Korea's main ally China, which has come under increased US pressure to push Pyongyang into abandoning its nuclear weapons programme, welcomed the reunion as a moment of "great significance".

In an apparent goodwill gesture, Seoul approved yesterday the shipment by two private aid groups for close to US$1 million ($1.2 million) worth of tuberculosis medicine and powdered milk to North Korea.

The 82 South Korean participants, with an average age of 84 and some so frail they had to be moved by ambulance, arrived at the resort midday on Thursday local time after crossing the heavily-militarised border in a convoy of 10 buses. After a brief lunch, they were led into a banqueting hall where they first came face to face with the 180 North Korean relatives they had applied to see.

Some simply embraced and sobbed, while others stared and stroked each other's faces, seemingly unable to believe that they were in the same room.

Photos were exchanged and lovingly pored over, not just old black-and-white ones of the family when it was together, but also new colour pictures of husbands, wives, children and grandchildren that neither side knew even existed.

Tens of millions of people were displaced by the sweep of the Korean War, which saw the frontline yo-yo from the south of the Korean peninsula to the northern border with China and back again.

- AFP

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