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North Korea celebrates birthday of late leader Kim Jong II

North Korea celebrates birthday of late leader Kim Jong II
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North Korea has been marking what would have been the 72nd birthday of the late leader Kim Jong II.

His son Kim Jong Un stood by giant statues of his father Kim Jong II and his grandfather Kim Il Sung as soldiers saluted them.

The Kim family has ruled North Korea for more than six decades.

Crowds in the capital Pyongyang laid flowers, with some specifically named after the former leader.

“To celebrate the Day of the Shining Star, I came with my family to visit the Kimjongilia flower exhibition, with the flowers named after our General Kim Jong Il, who personifies our strong Mount Paektu nation (North Korea),” said one Pyongyang resident.

Korea’s war from 1950 to 1953 split a country in two and tore families apart. Many have never heard from their loved ones since.

Occasional family reunions are agreed between the two countries. Those getting to take part are chosen by a lottery system.

81 year old Jang Choon only found out that his brother was still alive a few years ago. Now he is preparing to meet his brother and sister on a six day trip to North Korea and says it is all he wants before he dies.

“I swore to myself, ‘I must not die before I meet them (siblings). I must endure whatever pain comes my way.’”

There have been 18 family reunions since the first in 2000.

More than 80 percent of war survivors are over the age of 70 and have never been able to have any contact with their relatives living on the other side of the border.