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Hard truths from one Korean family reunion

Hard truths from one Korean family reunion

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What South Korean Park Ki-dong wanted most of all to learn from his Northern siblings was: when did his parents die and where were they buried?

He finally found out this week after decades of ignorance — but was disappointed by what he heard when he met his brother and sister for the first time in nearly 70 years at a reunion this week.

Lines on a map condemned them to a lifetime apart.

When the peninsula was originally divided by the US and Soviet Union along the 38th parallel in the aftermath of the Second World War, the family lived in Hwanghae province, then part of the South.

They farmed an unusually large holding of around nine hectares and Park, the eldest of five, went to school in Seoul, returning at weekends.

But North invaded South in 1950, and when hostilities ceased three years and millions of lives later, their home — along with his parents and two of his younger siblings — was on the other side of the Demilitarized Zone that has divided the peninsula ever since.

Now 82, Park said happily before heading to the reunion at the North’s Mount Kumgang resort: “My heart is filled with a thousand emotions. I’ve waited so long.”

But the actual event was underwhelming.

His brother Pak Sam Dong, 14 years his junior, showed him dozens of family photos, pointing and telling him: “This is you.”

The older man stared at the pictures silently, deep in thought, while his North Korean sister quietly wiped tears from her eyes.

“They were two and six years old when we were separated but now they are old,” Park told AFP after returning to the South.

“They are grandpa and grandma and they looked even older than me,” he added, sighing deeply.

“I thought they would be well off but when I met them, they were just like one of those dark, skinny People’s Army (North Korean) soldiers.”

The family were dependent on North Korea’s public ration system, he added, which aid agencies say is often unreliable.

“The Red Cross told us that we can’t give them more than $300, so I gave them $300 each because we can’t break the regulation,” Park said. “I also gave them my gold ring that I was wearing and watches that I bought,” along with four suitcases of clothes.

They had had “plenty of time to talk”, he said, and “all my questions have been answered”.

His parents’ graves, it turned out, were unmarked, dashing his filial hopes of erecting a tombstone for them.

And, he went on, “because we spent decades apart, their ideology and way of thinking was too different”.

“For example, they were saying that our meeting was due to the benevolence of the dear leader,” he explained.

“But all our farmland had been confiscated and they were expelled and living poorly in another part of the country.”


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