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Divided Koreans tape messages of regret

SEOUL—”I miss you so much,” 70-year-old Kim Ik-Je tells the long-lost brother he knows he will almost certainly never see.

As he begins to sob, the Red Cross video operator recording his words turns off the camera and allows Kim time to collect himself before filming resumes at his bookstore in Seoul.

Kim, Just one of the more than 65,000 mostly elderly South Koreans on a waiting list for the chance to be reunited with family members in the North, is resigned to the probability it will never happen.

And so he opted for a fall-back service offered by the South Korean government: to tape a video message that his brother, or later generations of relatives, might one day be able to view.

Millions were separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, and many have since died without seeing or hearing from their families on the other side of the border.

A reunion is scheduled for late October in a North Korean mountain resort, but it will be only the second such event in five years, and with just 200 families taking part.

At 70 years of age, Kim is actually in the waiting list’s younger demographic, but like those in their 80s and 90s, he knows the chances of being selected for one of the rare reunions are extremely slim.

Red Cross officials who are implementing the video project say they hope the North might agree to video exchanges for those relatives unable to meet, but the sad reality is that the recordings will most likely be viewed posthumously.

Pyongyang has a lengthy track record of manipulating the divided families’ issue for political purposes, refusing proposals for regular reunions and canceling events at the last minute over some perceived slight.

“Frankly, I doubt this video will be seen by my brother or any other relatives before my death,” Kim told AFP after he finished the recording

“But I agreed to do it because it’s the only other way to try and get a message across. It’s so difficult to be picked for the family reunions,” he said.

The second son of a transport company owner, Kim was only five years old when he fled his hometown in the North with his mother and three younger brothers in November 1950, some five months after the war began.

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