- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 28, 2003

SEOUL — With teary eyes, 102-year-old Yeo Soon-duk quietly rubbed her wrinkled face against her North Korean daughter’s face yesterday, the second day of their three-day reunion after more than 50 years apart.

“My daughter,” Mrs. Yeo said, running her hands over her 59-year-old daughter’s face.

“I don’t know how happy I am to see her after 53 years,” said daughter Chung Wan Ok, tightly holding her mother’s hands.

Mrs. Yeo is among 100 elderly South Koreans who traveled to North Korea on Friday for reunions with relatives they have not seen since the division of the Korean Peninsula in 1945 and the 1950-53 Korean War. There is no mail, telephone or other communication between ordinary citizens of the divided nations.

The reunions at the North’s east coast Diamond Mountain resort are the seventh such meetings since the Koreas agreed to promote peace and reconciliation at a historic summit in 2000.

Thousands of family members have been briefly reunited since.

Family reunions remain a highly pressing issue for the Koreas because many members of the divided families are elderly. Tens of thousands, mostly in their 70s or older, still wait to be selected by their governments for further reunions.

For some, the reunions brought back painful memories.

“Father, you left alone, leaving mother and me,” said Kim Gil Rok, the 56-year-old North Korean son of 81-year-old Kim Man-bok from South Korea.

The father shut his eyes in silence.

Mr. Kim left his North Korean home alone when American-led U.N. forces retreated down the Korean Peninsula in January 1951 to escape conscription into the communist military.

During the meetings inside hotel rooms, the families traded photographs and presents.

Foreign reporters were not allowed to cover the reunions, but South Korean media filed pool reports that included television footage and written descriptions of the reunions.

The South Koreans were scheduled to return home today, when 475 other South Koreans planned to travel to the Northern resort for more reunions.

The reunions have been overshadowed by the international standoff over North Korea’s suspected nuclear weapons programs. The United States and its allies are urging Pyongyang to give up its atomic ambitions.

The two Koreas have yet to agree on whether they will hold another round of reunions.

Yeom Yong-il, 83, met his North Korean brother Bong Soon.

“Missing you so much, Mother could not close her eyes when she passed away in 1976,” a teary Bong Soon, 69, told his South Korean brother.

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