Reunion proposal rejected by DPRK
Updated: 2014-01-10 08:39
Seoul's military exercises with US cited as barrier to family gatherings
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea rejected a proposal on Thursday from the Republic of Korea for resuming reunions of families separated by the Korean War, citing planned ROK-US military exercises as a major barrier.
The DPRK's main body for inter-Korean affairs said it would like to get the reunions going again, but questioned the ROK's sincerity.
"How could separated families comfortably meet for a reunion in the face of ceaseless war practices staged in the South?" the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea was quoted as saying by the DPRK's official KCNA news agency.
The ROK and the United States conduct a series of joint military exercises of varying magnitude every year.
The drills are routinely condemned by the DPRK as rehearsals for invasion.
Earlier this week, ROK President Park Geun-hye had called for a family reunion event to be held around the time of the Lunar New Year on Jan 31.
In a news conference, Park said the reunion program would provide new momentum to improve ties following years of high tensions.
A reunion had been scheduled for September last year but Pyongyang cancelled it at the last minute, blaming "hostility" from the ROK.
"In contrast to our genuine efforts, press experts and even government officials in the South made rude comments and displayed bad behavior," the CPRK recalled in its message on Thursday to the ROK's Unification Ministry.
Seoul responded by expressing "regret" that Pyongyang had sought to link a humanitarian issue with the regular joint military exercises it conducts with the US.
"The DPRK should show sincerity through its actions, instead of talking about improving ties only with words," the Unification Ministry said.
Millions of Koreans were left separated by the Korean War, which sealed the peninsula's division. Most have died without having the chance to reunite with family members last seen six decades ago.
The reunion program began in earnest in 2000 following a historic inter-Korean summit.
Sporadic events since then have seen around 17,000 people briefly reunited. The last such meeting took place in late 2010, before the program was suspended in the wake of the DPRK's shelling of the ROK border island of Yeonpyeong.
About 72,000 residents from the ROK - nearly half of them aged over 80 - are still alive and wait-listed for a chance to join the highly competitive reunion events, which select up to only a few hundred participants each time.
In its message on Thursday, the CPRK also mentioned its frustration at the South's unwillingness to discuss "the proposals of our side" for improving cross-border ties.
Pyongyang has sought to link the family reunions to a resumption of the ROK tours to the DPRK's Mount Kumgang resort - a source of much needed hard currency.
The ROK suspended the tours in 2008 after a soldier from the DPRK shot dead a female tourist who strayed into a restricted zone. It insists their resumption should not be discussed alongside the family reunions.
"There is no change in our government's stance that the family reunion and the agenda proposed by the North are separate issues," the Unification Ministry said.