Why Are Family Reunions Held Only at Mt. Kumgang?

      October 22, 2015 09:56

      The latest reunions of families separated by the Korean War are being once again held at Mt. Kumgang in North Korea.

      Yet the tradition is by no means written in stone.

      During the first inter-Korean summit in June 2000, the two Koreas agreed on a "mutual exchange of delegations of separated families" to be reunited with their relatives.

      Each side sent selected people so they could meet their relatives from the other side of the border simultaneously in Seoul and Pyongyang.

      North Koreans wait in line to meet their long-lost South Korean families at reunions at the Kumgangsan Hotel on Wednesday. /Newsis

      But after three rounds the North abruptly insisted the reunions be moved to Mt. Kumgang.

      A Unification Ministry official recalls that the reunions were considered too disruptive to North Korean life because they exposed the glaring differences in economic development.

      Since the fourth round in April 2002, all 17 family reunions have been held at Mt. Kumgang.

      The Roh Moo-hyun administration spent W50 billion (US$1=W1,131) building a dedicated meeting hall there.

      But there are complaints every time because the resort is a long way from the border.

      "It's very difficult for elderly people in their 80s and 90s to stay overnight in Sokcho, then travel to Mt. Kumgang by bus, and stay two nights in an inconvenient hotel there," a government official said. "There's a reason many elderly people have given up meeting their relatives for health reasons, even if they haven't seen them for 60 or more years."

      Another problem is that the North holds the event hostage. North Korean officials often threaten to cancel the event if the South behaves in a way they dislike.

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