PYONGYANG, North Korea, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- North and South Korean families, split by the 1950-53 war that split their homeland, ended their tearful reunions Tuesday, unsure if they would meet again.
As they bid farewell to one another after their get-togethers at Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort on North Korea's east coast, many of the South and North Koreans broke down while preparing to leave for their homes and others sang sad folk songs, the South's Yonhap News reported.
"Brother, brother, how can I live without you?" Park Jong-soon, a 68-year-old South Korean, wailed as she held the hand her 88-year-old North Korean brother extended from the window of the bus that took him home.
The reunions, the first such since 2010, were arranged after North Korea consented after negotiating with South Korea.
But prior to the six-day event, the North threatened to back out if the South went ahead with its military drills with the United States. The reunions, however, went on even after the South refused to scrap the drills, a development seen by experts in the South as a sign of the Communist North's desire to improve ties with the South.
The military drills, which will last until April, began Monday, even as the North maintained it is a rehearsal for an attack against it.
Park Jong-song, who ended up in North Korea during the war, met his three sisters from South Korea during the reunion. He assured them: "We can meet again if we stay healthy," Yonhap reported.
The report said 357 South Koreans were scheduled to return home Tuesday after their reunions with 88 elderly North Korean relatives. They were among the second group of families during get-togethers. Last Saturday, 80 elderly South Koreans, accompanied by 56 family members, returned home after the first round.
South Korea has been pressing for frequent family reunions because of concerns that many members of the separated families are quite elderly and may not have much longer to live.
There are millions of such separated families, but only a handful have been able to meet since the program began in 2000. People in the two Koreas cannot exchange telephone calls or letters as the two Koreas are technically still in a state of war because the 1950s conflict ended in a cease-fire and there has not been a formal peace treaty since.
One South Korean expert told Yonhap the isolated North sees such inter-Korean family contacts as a threat that can harm its political system.
Inter-Korean relations were deeply strained after Kim Jong Un's North Korean regime, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, went ahead with long-range missile firings and conducted its third nuclear test a year ago. There have also been numerous other provocations from Pyongyang as well as purges, raising concerns about instability in that country.