A touching moment rarely breaks though the cold-blooded hostility that divides North and South Korea. But it happened over the weekend, when 65 families finally came together after more than 35 years of forced separation brought on by the Korean war. It was the first time since the 1950-53 war that ordinary citizens had been allowed across the border between the two Koreas.
Fifteen of the reunions took place Saturday morning in Seoul, where many North Korean visitors broke into sobs on learning that parents or other close relatives had died.
Tears ran down the face of Suh Hyong Sok, a North Korean college teacher, as he leaned forward and shouted into the ear of his elderly mother, ``Mother, you must recognize me! I am your eldest son!'' His mother, Yu Myo Sul, seemed only dimly aware of what was taking place, but she too began to cry when recognition dawned on her face.
Saturday's reunions were the first result of 15 years of efforts by the Red Cross Societies of both Koreas to reunite families separated by the war. About 10 million people are believed to have relatives on the other side of the border.
In the 1970s a series of negotiations broke down in failure when the North-South Red Cross meetings became embroiled in political disputes. But this year, the political will on both sides finally matched the yearning of Koreans to move toward reunifying their homeland.
The ice broke a year ago when South Korea accepted a North Korean offer of relief aid for flood victims in the South.
As the result of an agreement reached a month ago, two delegations of 151 persons each crossed the border at Panmunjom Friday morning and headed for the capital cities of Seoul and Pyongyang. Each delegation included 50 people hoping to meet relatives on the other side, as well as equal numbers of performing artists, Red Cross personnel, and journalists.
Politics intruded inevitably into Saturday morning's exchanges. In Seoul, the North Korean visitors seemed almost too eager to boast of their good life in the North, at least in front of the mobs of reporters who swarmed around them. Their Southern relatives, however, were ready to respond in kind.
In Pyongyang, South Korean Roman Catholic Bishop Tji Hak Soun, a prominent human-rights activist in the 1970s, met his sister, Yong Hwa, for the first time in 36 years.
After an emotional reunion his sister said, ``The place where we live now is heaven, but my brother says he will go to heaven after death. He surely is beside himself.'' The bishop told his sister, ``You have really been brainwashed.''
In Seoul, negotiations over the itinerary proved to be a nonstop tug of war, with each event in doubt until it actually took place. South Korea had succeeded in locating relatives of 30 of the visiting North Koreans, and the North Korean Red Cross agreed Thursday night that they would meet their relatives at 9:30 the next morning. At 9:20 a.m. the North Koreans abruptly announced that only 15 would come down from their hotel rooms. Their relatives waited until 11:00 before leaving the room disappointed.
But they did meet their relatives Sunday morning.
The South Koreans had learned that their family members would come south just days earlier. Many did not even suspect they had relatives in North Korea.
South Korea would clearly like to have more family reunions in the future, but no one knows if North Korea will agree to it. Pyongyang previously showed greater interest in an exchange of performing arts troupes. The North apparently accepted the family reunions only grudgingly, in order that the South would allow the performances to take place.
North and South Korea are now talking to each other about a range of topics, including economic cooperation.