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World – Koreans Separated by War to Reunite for First Time in Two Years

Bomi Lim

Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) — A group of South Koreans is set to cross the heavily armed land border with North Korea today with the resumption of a program to reunite families separated since the 1950-1953 war.

The six days of meetings at the Mount Geumgang resort in North Korea are the first since October 2007. About 200 relatives, 100 from each side, will participate.

The cross-border exchanges, which were agreed to in August, come amid other conciliatory gestures from the communist regime following its detonation of a nuclear device in May. The North’s leader Kim Jong Il told a Chinese envoy on Sept. 18 he’s prepared to return to international negotiations on dismantling his nuclear weapons programs.

“I am still dazed at the fact I will be meeting my sister and brother in a couple of days,” Lee Sun Soo, 76, said in a Sept. 24 telephone interview from Seoul. “They were just babies. Would I even recognize them?”

Lee said he was separated from the rest of his family in December of 1950 when he followed a crowd of refugees by himself “out of curiosity.” They were traveling south across the border.

Some 20,000 Koreans since 2000 briefly met relatives across the border until the visits were halted, the Unification Ministry said on its Web site.

Registered With Government

Lee is among more than 85,000 people in South Korea seeking to take part in the meetings, according to the ministry. About a third of the 130,000 in the nation who registered with the government have since died.

The Korean War ended in a cease-fire that has never been replaced by a peace treaty. About 1.7 million troops are stationed on both sides of the border strewn with land mines. The U.S. has about 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, according to the United States Forces Korea Web site.

When South Korean President Lee Myung Bak took office in February last year, he pledged to change the so-called Sunshine Policy of openness with the North pursued by his two predecessors. Reunification with North Korea can only come after the communist country gives up its nuclear program, Lee said in a Sept. 21 speech in New York.

“Unfortunately, we don’t find any indication anywhere that North Korea has such intentions,” Lee said, according to a transcript on his office Web site. Any economic support from South Korea will come only after Kim’s regime abandons nuclear weapons ambitions, he said.

Atomic Test

Tensions on the peninsula peaked after the North’s atomic test, which was followed by a vow never to return to so-called six-party talks on ending its nuclear program. South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S. are partners to the talks.

Relations began to improve after former U.S. President Bill Clinton traveled to Pyongyang to secure the release of two detained U.S. journalists on Aug. 5. North Korea then freed a detained Hyundai Group worker and four South Korean fishermen and Kim sent a delegation to South Korea to pay respects after the death of former President Kim Dae Jung. This month the Koreas settled a wage dispute at a jointly run industrial complex inside North Korea.

For Lee Sun Soo, the coming reunion is something he never believed he would see.

“I had given up,” said Lee, who has five children. “My parents are long gone. At least now I can find out which dates they died so I can pay respects.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Bomi Lim in Seoul at blim30@bloomberg.net

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September 26, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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