Bittersweet Family Reunions - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

From Anchor Araksya Karapetyan

Bittersweet Family Reunions

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Have you watched any footage of the tearful Korean reunions? You can't help to get all choked up…

The brief, emotionally charged reunions ended on Tuesday. It had been three years since the last time these reunions took place. Who knows when this will happen again… and that's what makes it so heartbreaking. The reality is neither country has ever allowed the participants a second chance to meet their relatives across the border.

The two sets of reunions started last week. Seven hundred fifty people from the South and North were involved. It almost didn't happen. Last minute North Korea threatened to cancel the reunions, as a way to protest the annual U.S. - South Korean military drills, but then thankfully allowed them to go forward.

The families had only three days to meet with relatives they hadn't seen since the Korean War ended in 1953. Millions of families were separated by that conflict and remain separated because of the world's most heavily fortified border. Both sides don't allow ordinary citizens to visit each other, talk to one another on the phone, write letters or send emails.

The South wants to expand these reunions to include more participants and hold them on a regular basis, but the North doesn't want to risk having the South influence its people in any way that may threaten its power.

North Korea reportedly only picks citizens it sees as loyal for these reunions, while the South uses a computerized lottery system to pick participants. Because these reunions so rare many of those who initially applied for a chance to participate are no longer alive.

About six years ago, during more liberal times in South Korea, Seoul rewarded Pyongyang with rice and fertilizer shipments for arranging these reunions. But now it looks like the South will not approve big aid shipments for more reunions, unless the North takes some serious nuclear disarmament measures. Experts say at this point that's something Pyongyang isn't willing to do.

I can't even begin to imagine, I don't want to imagine being separated from my family for decades. The thought of that brings tears to my eyes. 

I watched one South Korean man's heart wrenching story- how he hadn't seen his brother since he was 12 years old and how he was preparing for his upcoming trip. Actually he had been preparing his whole life. As the years had gone by, he had been buying, collecting and saving things for his brother, hoping that one day he would see him again. The suitcase was filled with items that his brother, now an old man, wouldn't need and couldn't use… but it was so sweet to see how not a single day of his life had gone by without him thinking of his brother, suffering in the North.

My tears flow as I watch reunion after reunion. What would you say? What do you talk about when you have this inevitable deadline looming over you? Do you speak of the past? Of the memories you have of better days? Catch up on everything you have missed out on? Talk about the future and try to remain hopeful? How do you even begin… to pick up a relationship you have been deprived of for decades?

Do you even recognize the person standing in front of you?

All I know is that at this moment…  I feel grateful to have my family beside me.

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