Tears melt political
divide of 50 years
A tearful reunion of 200 family members yesterday highlighted
the emotional toll of the two Koreas' political division.
A North Korean plane landed in Seoul carrying 100 North
Koreans to see their relatives across the great divide
for the first time in half a century. A further 100 South
Koreans then boarded the plane to go to Pyongyang.
The contingent from the North seemed stunned that the
meeting was actually taking place. They walked into the
convention hall, where family members they had not seen
for 50 years sat waiting at numbered tables. Mothers,
fathers, sons and daughters wailed and screamed, some
with joy, some because their loved ones could not recognise
them. One woman fainted and was carried away on a stretcher.
A few took traditional herbal Korean medicine to guard
against sudden heart failure.
Lim Jae-Hyok, 66, stumbled upon his 91-year-old father
in a wheelchair. They had last seen each other when Mr
Lim was drafted into the North Korean army.
With tears flowing as his ailing father failed to recognise
him, Mr Lim screamed in anguish.
''Daddy, your grandsons in North Korea want to see you,
too. My heart is breaking. This might be my last bow,''
he said, as he hurled himself on to the floor and lay
''Father, father,'' 52-year-old Cho Kyong-jae cried,
kneeling in front of 78-year-old Cho Yong-gwan from North
''Oh, my son. I'm sorry. You've grown up nicely,'' said
the elder Cho, a state-decorated scientist in the North
who was drafted into the communist army. His wife died
34 years ago, his son told him.
In contrast to the dramatic scenes at the convention
centre in Seoul, the reunion at the Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang
was more muted. Tears were shed, but the atmosphere was
somewhat constrained. After the initial greeting, a few
family members kept sobbing while some calmly swapped
''I never dreamed I would come back here in my life,''
said Han Jae-il as he stepped off the plane in Pyongyang,
a stroll away from where he was born 82 years ago.
The South Korean delegation chief, Chang Chung-shik,
said on arrival: ''I hope these reunions will not stop
as a one-time event and will continue so the day will
come when dispersed family members on the two sides can
go and come freely.''
When the 100 North Koreans arrived in Seoul, they moved
swiftly, neither pausing nor looking around at the long
line of spectators before jauntily boarding a fleet of
buses to the convention centre. The 94 men wore dark suits,
blue shirts and sported two official badges one on the
left jacket lapel featuring the founder of the Stalinist
state, Kim Il-sung, and the North Korean flag on the right.
The six women wore hanbok, traditional flowing dresses.
When Lim Jae-hyok, 66, met his 91-year-old father in
a wheelchair he burst out in anguish, thumping his chest,
throwing up his arms and bowing. ''My father, I am seeing
your face for the first time in 50 years. Our dear general
Kim Jong-il sent me here to let me see you before you
die,'' he said.
Mr Kim has reportedly agreed to two more family reunion
sessions later this year.
The reunions were the first since 1985, when 50 separated
family members from each side crossed the border.