04/27/2015, 00.00
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Pyongyang handing out extra food to families separated by the war

Rice, eggs and liqueurs are among food items (along with propaganda badges), the government has handed out to North Koreans with relatives in South Korea. The regime wants to make them look healthier in view of possible family reunions, perhaps for the 70th anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japan.

Pyongyang (AsiaNews/Agencies) – North Korean authorities have recently resumed efforts to locate families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War in order to provide them with special food rations.

The search for people with relatives in the South has resumed at the orders of the ruling Workers Party. The beneficiaries are receiving monthly rations of rice, eggs, cooking oil, meat, liquor and fabric, a source told the South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo.

North Korean authorities apparently also gave them badges with the images of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and his son, leader Kim Jong-il. The latter is the father of the country’s current leader Kin Jong-un.

This has led to speculation that Pyongyang might restart cross-border family reunions to mark the 70th anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japan.

"The move seems aimed at making sure separated family members look healthy and well-nourished before they attend the family reunions," the source said. "They need to be fed for a couple of months at least."

This is nothing new because under the two previous Kims, reunion participants were given proper food and ideological training during the two weeks before the reunion.

Koreans separated between (pro-Soviet) North Korea and (pro-American) South Korea by the end of the Korean War in 1953 are still scarred by the border that divided the peninsula, tearing families apart.

Family reunions began in 1985 as a "goodwill gesture" by the two Koreas. However, the policy was never made permanent.

In South Korea, applicants for family reunions must show that they have a relative still living across the border before they can register with the Ministry of Unification. About 130,000 applied initially, but only 71,000 are currently left

Once their application is approved, South Koreans are selected according to age and family tie. How North Korea chooses its members remains unknown.

According to some estimates, 9.3 per cent of South Koreans with northern relatives are over 90 years old, 40.5 per cent are over 80 years, and 30.6 per cent over 70. Similar figures for North Koreans are not available for “technical reasons".

The last time a family reunion was held took place between 20 and 25 February 2014, when 82 South Korean citizens travelled to Mount Kumgang in the North Korean province of Gangwon, to be reunited with their families.

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