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Just want to know whether you`re still alive up there!

Posted August. 16, 2000 19:58,   


After wandering around all the day long in front of the Sheraton Walker Hill Hotel, where the separated families from North Korea are staying, Chung Chan-Koo, 77, from Namyangju city, Kyonggi-do, burst into tears. I only want to know whether my kin in the North are alive or not, he said, choking back tears. He came to this hotel looking for any clue to the whereabouts of his wife, 70, and his son, 50, who were separated from him during the Korean War (1950-1953). On the hotel plaza swarm some 500 people, stricken with the pain of family separation lasting over five decades. One of them, Kim Sang-Il, 71, from Puchon city, Kyonggi-do, hangs a sign around his neck with the names of his six family members written upon it. Lee Wan-Je, 46, from Tongjak-ku, Seoul, sets up a sign in a hotel corner with pictures of the relatives he is looking for.

They all said that if they could learn whether their loved ones had died, they could hold memorial services, while voicing the agony of the 50-year-long separation. Meanwhile, several hundreds of the displaced people assembled at the plaza of Kimpo International Airport on Monday to meet the visitors going to the North, asking them to obtain information on the safety of their dispersed families during their stay in Pyongyang. Some of the displaced people, who were dropped from the list of the North Korean visits, are now stricken with the pain of separation from long-lost kin.

According to government data, the total number of displaced family members has reached 7.67 million. Therefore, the ongoing exchange visits by the 200 South and North Korean families are no more than personal festivals for the chosen few. The rest of them desperately need to confirm whether or not their separated kin are still alive. On Wednesday alone, a total of 110 visited the Korean National Red Cross and applied for the next round of visits to the North, more than 1,000 calls were received at the KNRC office in the day. The figures are more than double those recorded on an ordinary day in the past, representing the rising aspirations for cross-border hometown visits.

The current visits, held for a limited time and at limited places, could leave behind additional anguish and frustration for both the visitors and their relatives. To resolve the sticky problem, the South and North Korean authorities are required to regularize the family-reunion program on a permanent basis, through such means as setting up of the meeting places, and the routine exchange of mail and goods, experts on North Korea pointed out.