For families split by Korean war, a bittersweet reunion or despair

Wed Sep 30, 2015 7:13am EDT
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By Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) - For 87-year-old Lee Yong-nyo, the last chance to meet a daughter she had not seen for decades disappeared with the click of a mouse.

The Red Cross was holding a computer algorithm-driven lottery in Seoul, the first step in choosing 100 South Koreans who can meet kin in the North separated since the 1950-53 Korean War.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans have applied to meet families living in North Korea. When the two governments agree, the Red Cross sets up a three-day meeting at the Mount Kumgang resort near their border for some of the families.

"My heart is going to burst," wept Lee after she did not make the first cut at the Red Cross draw for the next reunion in October.

"I want to find my daughter, or at least know if she is dead or alive. I left her when she was three. When am I going to get the chance, if not now?"

The reunions are an important marker for the state of relations between the two Koreas, which are technically still at war. Nineteen such reunions have been held since 2000, the last one in February, 2014.

The random draw whittles down the list to 500 from the 66,000 South Koreans who have registered for the visits. The Red Cross pares the number to 250, reflecting applicants' health and whether they still want to go.

Authorities in the North then try to locate the relatives, and finally, about 100 families are chosen for the reunion, with the elderly and those with immediate family members on the other side getting priority.   Continued...

Kang Neung-hwan, 94, who is one of the participants in the latest inter-Korean reunion in 2014 for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, pauses during an interview with Reuters at his home in Seoul, South Korea, September 23, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji