02/12/2014, 00.00
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For divided Korean families, reunions are not about politics

Kang Neung-hwan, 92, has never seen his son in the North. He has prepared a basket for him with cough medicine, socks, and vitamins. "I'm not sure if I'll even recognise my family," said Yu Seon-bi, 80. "After 61 years, the memory wanes."

Seoul (AsiaNews) - For Kang Neung-hwan, 92, the family reunion scheduled for 20 February is his last chance to see his son. The retired salesman from Seoul was forced to flee his home 61 one years ago, leaving behind his pregnant wife after a war that cemented the country's division.

Kang is the oldest of 100 South Koreans chosen by lottery to see relatives left on the other side of the border, Bloomberg reports. In previous occasions, he was set for reunions that were later cancelled. In 2013, a planned reunion he was supposed to go to was cancelled.    

This time he knows that everything depends on Kim Jong-un, North Korea's dictator. The 'youthful marshal' and Kim Jong-il's heir could cancel everything at the last moment. For the old man, this is probably his last chance.

Kang has prepared a basket full of stuff for his son: vitamins, socks, underwear, toothpaste, and cough medicine.

Such items might seem unusual, but for the average North Korean, they are precious goods to which only the political elite and the regime's 1.2 military have access.

In the world's last Stalinist nation, they are hard to find, especially cough medicine. Tuberculosis is now endemic in almost all North Korea provinces.

As Seoul and Pyongyang talk, Kang hopes the two sides will show good will. "I can't think of anything better that could happen in my life. This is not just politics," he said.

High-level talks in fact got underway today in Panmunjom, the village where the armistice was signed.

Divided families hope that this time the scheduled reunion will not be cancelled at the last minute, as was the case in September 2013.

Along with Kang, Yu Seon-bi, 80, was one of the lucky who were selected. She left a sister and a brother up North, and was with last year's group that was stopped at the last moment.

The selection system privileges people who have direct living relatives on the other side of the border. The Red Cross organises family reunions.

During the visit of a Red Cross official in Seoul, she broke down crying after she heard the name of her hometown.

"I'm not sure if I'll even recognise my family," Yu said rubbing her thumbs against a Red Cross booklet detailing the six-day visit.  "After 61 years, the memory wanes."

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