‘Time is not on our side’

‘Time is not on our side’
Park Hee Sook, 80, waits to ask a question about registration for upcoming family reunions at the administration office for separated families in Red Cross building in Seoul on August 27, 2013.

KOREA - Thousands of families were torn apart at the end of the Korean War (1950-1953) and their pain persists as the remaining members anxiously write the final chapters of their lives, still hoping to see their loved ones again.

Of the 129,035 people originally registered in South Korea's separated-family database since August 1988, 56,544 have passed away while most of the surviving 72,491 are in their 70s, 80s or 90s.

The two Koreas have held 18 family reunions for the survivors since 2000, enabling 18,143 parents, siblings and kin to cry tears of joy and relief. Another 3,748 were able to connect through a video telephone system set up in 2005.

But with the reunions stopping in 2010 after inter-Korean relations chilled upon North Korea's sinking of the South Korean naval corvette Cheonan in the West Sea, thousands of exasperated individuals in both the North and South were left wondering when they would be able to see their divided family members for one last time.

In a report titled "Restarting reunions for separated families: no more time to waste," Hyundai Research Institute calculated that all first-generation separated family members would die in 20-24 years. Annual reunions for up to 7,000 individuals are required if every separated person were to meet their loved ones at least once before passing away, HRI concluded.

Voices have risen among the politicians to better systemize and normalize the separated-family reunions that have so far been held sporadically and on a small scale, to help the first-generation survivors.

Main opposition Democratic Party lawmaker In Jae-keun, for instance, urged the government on Sunday to first identify surviving families in the North before systemizing reunions.

Meanwhile, in a rare voice of unison, political parties denounced the North for holding separated families hostage for political gains by unilaterally postponing the reunion that was scheduled for Sept. 25.

"The North is attempting to only maintain what is more advantageous for them such as the Gaeseong industrial complex, while resorting to its past (habit) regarding humanitarian issues," the Saenuri Party said in a statement calling for imminent resumption of the reunion preparation.

DP floor leader Rep. Jun Byung-hun warned the North that "a transgression on moral laws will not be forgiven," and said, "It is said that 43.8 per cent of the reunion applicants have already passed away. There is no time."

By Jeong Hunny (hj257@heraldcorp.com)

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