|People living in North Korea hold hands of their separated family members in South Korea while bidding farewell following a three-day reunion event at Mount Geumgang resort in the North in this Aug. 26, 2018 photo. / Korea Time file|
By Kang Seung-woo
Over 1,300 members of families separated by the Korean War died this year, government data showed, Thursday, unable to meet their loved ones due to soured inter-Korean relations.
According to the unification ministry, a total of 1,379 people who had applied to see their long-lost relatives in North Korea, passed away without having their wishes fulfilled in the period of January to May.
Among the total of 133,386 South Koreans who have registered as members of separated families, only 51,367, or 38.5 percent, were alive as of May. In addition, the survivors are aging as 65.4 percent of them are aged 80 or older, which is increasing the urgency of the humanitarian matter for the two Koreas.
Following the inter-Korean summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in April 2018, where they agreed to discuss and solve humanitarian issues including the reunion of separated families, the two Koreas held a round of reunion events at the Mount Geumgang resort on the North's east coast in August of that year ― for the first time in nearly three years. Since 1985, a total of 21 rounds of family reunions have taken place.
In another summit in September that year, the two sides also agreed to open a permanent reunion center for divided families and hold video meetings or exchange video messages.
However, the deadlock in denuclearization talks between the United States and the North has thwarted progress in the reunion of separated families, putting the aging family members at risk of dying before reuniting with their families in the North.
Given that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000 and the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, the South Korean government had prepared a variety of events related to reunions. As part of its efforts, President Moon floated the idea of the government allowing citizens to make individual tours to the North, including possible hometown visits by separated families.
However, Pyongyang has yet to respond to Seoul's proposal for inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation and the recent demolition of the South-North joint liaison office has stonewalled any possibility of inter-Korean communications.