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SEPTEMBER 1 , 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 34 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK

Hello, Goodbye
Tears flow as Koreans hold a historic, but tantalizingly brief, family reunion
By SANGWON SUH

For four days, it seemed the entire Korean peninsula was having a collective cry. From Aug. 15 to 18, Seoul and Pyongyang each hosted a 100-strong delegation from the other side in a historic family reunion program. Emotions overflowed as parents were reunited with their long-lost children and brothers and sisters came together for the first time in half a century. Even onlookers could not help becoming teary-eyed at the personal stories of pain and separation that came pouring out.

But now that the reunions are over, a reality check is taking place, especially over the prospects of future meetings. Would this be just a one-off event? Would the participants get no more than a single tantalizingly brief face-to-face with their loved ones? And what about those millions of others who were not lucky enough — or, in the case of the North Koreans, not important enough — to be included in the reunion program? "The public display of emotions has psychologically disturbed many elderly South Koreans who failed to make it this time," said an official of the Red Cross, which organized the event.

The Seoul government and Red Cross officials are determined to make the reunions a regular event and are pushing for a permanent meeting place. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has himself indicated that more reunions could be held in September and October.

But obstacles remain. In a reminder of its still-secretive nature, North Korea did not allow its delegates in Seoul to visit the homes of their South Korean relatives; nor were the South Koreans in Pyongyang permitted to visit their ancestral villages. Both governments will probably continue efforts to iron out their political differences. But for now, ordinary Koreans will have to be content with the fact that a step has been made in the right direction.

With reporting by Laxmi Nakarmi Seoul

Write to Asiaweek at mail@web.asiaweek.com

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