Sorrow Outweighs Joy as Koreans End Their Visits

Times Staff Writer

The Rev. Hwang Jun Kun, speaking at a prayer meeting in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang before a South Korean delegation returned here Monday, told 50 South Korean worshipers: “The sorrow of separation is much greater than the joy of meeting.”

The same feelings were evident in Seoul.

As a bus carrying Hong Yon Gu, 58, on the beginning of his trip back to North Korea began to move, Hong and his South Korean brother, Hong Yon Uk, 63, who had not seen each other since the 1950-53 Korean War, placed the palms of their hands facing each other on the bus window, as if to touch each other.

Both knew that it might be the last time they would ever meet.

Search for Relatives

Thus ended the first exchange of visits by Koreans of the Communist north and the capitalist south in search of relatives from whom they were separated more than three decades ago--first by the division of Korea into two countries after World War II and then by war.

Reunions for 35 of the South Koreans, who spent four days in Pyongyang, and for 30 of the North Koreans, who spent the same period here, were only “a small accomplishment, but we are not disappointed,” former Prime Minister Kim Sang Hyup, president of the South Korean Red Cross, said after returning to Seoul.


He said the south will propose expanding the size of future visits and push for an exchange of mail. “We confirmed that we are one blood and one nation despite the 40-year division,” Kim declared before leaving Pyongyang.

More than 10 million Korean relatives are estimated to have been separated.

‘Useful and Significant’

Kim’s counterpart, Sohn Song Pil, president of the North Korean Red Cross, also accented the positive at the end of the sometimes acerbic and often emotional visit.

“The visit (to Seoul) was successful,” Sohn said. “Even though it was short, it was useful and significant. (But) it was just a start toward reunification of our fatherland.”

He spoke just before leaving for the border truce village of Panmunjom, where the two, 151-member delegations crossed back into their own countries at noon Monday.

The positive statements contrasted strongly with bitter exchanges of criticism during the four-day visits.

South Korean Red Cross officials visiting Pyongyang were enraged when 43 North Koreans who had met 35 of their relatives from the south appeared Monday morning at the southerners’ hotel in the city. The group delivered speeches denouncing the Seoul government and the presence of 40,000 U.S. troops in South Korea.

Efforts Questioned

In Seoul, North Korean Red Cross spokesman Park Yong Su told reporters before leaving that the south “had not made sincere efforts” to locate all the relatives of the 50 northerners who returned to their birthplace here.

The North Korean Labor (Communist) Party newspaper, Rodong Shinmun, said South Korea rejected the north’s proposal to allow reunions in a family atmosphere, instead requiring the visitors from the north to meet their relatives collectively in a large room.

Rev. Hwang’s assessment of the visits was supported by the comments of the South Koreans returning to Seoul on Monday. Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Chi Hak Soun, 64, who was reunited with relatives in Pyongyang, said, “I feel very sad.”

Chi, head of the Catholic diocese of Wonju, fled to the south in 1949 with his younger brother to seek the freedom to practice his religion. And from then until Saturday--when he met his younger sister, Chi Yong Hwa, 61--he had no word on what happened to his older brother and three sisters, who remained in the north.

‘So Many Died’

“So many of my relatives had died. And my sister and brother-in-law looked so very old. Their hands were so tough,” the bishop said sadly.

His sister has changed, the bishop said. Like him, she was brought up as a Catholic, “but now she says there is no God.” In their meeting, he said, the sister declared that heaven is North Korea itself, “where all people are enjoying an affluent life without worry.”

He added that he believes his sister and her husband “were told what to say.”