09/24/2013, 00.00
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S Korean elders "devastated" by the cancellation of family reunions

Pyongyang suddenly cancels meetings and the Red Cross in Seoul has to tell those "chosen" to take part in them about it. Lee Seon-jong, 81, was in shock, so badly shaken that he had to be hospitalised, his life in danger.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - Pyongyang's decision on 21 September to cancel reunions between families separated by the Korean War "was awful" for participants. "Their suffering is beyond description," said Heo Jeong-gu, a South Korean Red Cross official in charge of reunions.

Up to 73,000 South Koreans are on the waiting list for a chance to take part in one of the reunions, where only a few hundred participants are invited each time.

Of those who survived the war, 9.3 per cent are more than 90 years old, 40.5 per cent more than 80 years and 30.6 per cent over 70 years. Of these, about 200 had already been selected for a reunion set for 19 to 21 September (which coincides with Chuseok or Korean 'Thanksgiving').

In an interview before the postponement was announced, Lee Seon-jong, 81, had said he was so excited about the prospect of meeting his two sisters that he could barely sleep. "You can't imagine how much I've missed them," Lee explained.

"He was so shocked and disappointed, he couldn't speak or eat properly" after he heard of the cancellation, his wife Ko Jae-hee said. "In the end his condition got so bad, he had to be hospitalised," she added.

"When I was chosen, I also learned that my direct family members-my mother, my two sisters-were dead," Cheung Hi-kyung, 80, said. But his 65-year-old nephew was alive and Cheung had been overjoyed at the prospect of seeing him.

"My expectations were sky high, but now I just feel . . . emptied. [North Korea's] decision "is incredibly cruel and disappointing," Cheung said.


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