North Korea on Thursday rejected the South’s offer for talks on reunions of separated families, crushing long-held wishes of aging Koreans and hopes for improved cross-border ties.
While agreeing on the event’s need and humanitarian nature, Pyongyang cited as barriers Seoul’s military exercises, the cold weather and short preparation period for the gathering timed for Lunar New Year’s Day later this month.
Seoul expressed regret, calling on the communist neighbor to demonstrate sincerity with action toward its resolve for inter-Korean reconciliation exhibited in leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year address last week.
“We could sit face to face in a good season if nothing significant takes place in the South and it remains willing to discuss our proposal together,” the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a verbal notice delivered through a cross-border telephone channel.
“But in contrast to our sincere efforts, the South’s media, experts and even government officials have been relaying discourteous remarks and behavior, while staging war exercises.”
Seoul’s Unification Ministry criticized the North for linking a humanitarian issue with regular military drills and other deals such as suspended tours to Mount Geumgangsan.
“The North should show sincerity over the improvement of inter-Korean relations not by words, but by action,” spokesman Kim Eui-do said.
The ministry made a formal request via the line Monday, after President Park Geun-hye proposed the first family reunions in more than three years at a news conference.
The proposal came shortly after Kim Jong-un urged the South to work for “independent, democratic unification” and “come forward” to improve cross-border relations.
In late September, Pyongyang called off planned family reunions during which 100 people from each side were supposed to reunite with their loved ones at Mount Geumgangsan.
The divided states first held a reunion of families displaced by the 1950-53 Korean War in 1985.
Eighteen rounds of face-to-face reunions and seven video-link meetings have since taken place, involving more than 22,000 people from 4,380 families.
The program was halted in 2010 in the wake of the North’s sinking of a South Korean corvette and artillery firing on a border island in the West Sea. Inter-Korean relations were further strained by a string of missile and nuclear tests by Pyongyang.
By Shin Hyon-hee