North Korean families who met last month with South Korean relatives from whom they had been separated for years were made by authorities in the North to hand over money they had received in the meetings as gifts, North Korean sources say.
The money, described by sources as “loyalty funds,” was given by family members as expressions of gratitude to Pyongyang for allowing the meetings with long-lost relatives to take place, a source in North Hamgyong province, bordering China, told RFA’s Korean Service.
“People who participated in the reunion of separated families at [North Korea’s] Mount Kumgang in August have donated most of the money that they received from South Korean families to North Korea as a ‘loyalty fund,’” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Following the meetings, which took place from Aug. 20 to 26, the North Korean families taking part were subjected by authorities to political meetings aimed at “cleansing” them from unwanted ideological influences picked up from their relatives in the capitalist South, RFA’s source said.
“And the very first meetings began with them having to report any gifts, including cash, they might have received from their South Korean relatives,” he said.
“They could have gotten in trouble by failing to report even a piece of candy,” he said.
At the end of each meeting, a participant prompted earlier by authorities would stand and suggest that all money received from relatives as gifts be donated to thank the North Korean state for its help in facilitating the reunions, he said.
“Everyone else would then say ‘Yes’ or show their approval by clapping their hands, and no one would dare to refuse,” he said.
Most would donate only half the amount they had received, though, RFA’s source said.
'They had little money left'
Also speaking to RFA, a source from North Pyongan province, also bordering China, said that remaining funds would then be spent to reimburse the costs of their accommodations during “group training sessions” held in preparation for the family meetings, or for pre-arranged clothing and other gifts for their South Korean relatives.
“And when they went home, they would also spend money on drinks for their neighbors or for officials who had been involved in the family reunion event,” he said.
“Thus, they had little money left after the reunions, and they sometimes ended up owing money because they spent more than they had received.”
Writing in a Sept. 11 article, “The Dark Side of Korean Family Reunions,” the Washington, D.C.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea noted that as many as 57,000 South Koreans, most over 70 years of age, were still waiting as of May to meet family members in the North from whom they have been separated.
“Allowing just 89 senior citizens to participate in a single reunion event is a far cry from the reunion scale needed to grant all of the separated Koreans even one visit with their family members from the other side of the [Demilitarized Zone] prior to their passing,” the rights group said.
Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.