[EDITORIALS]North Must Explain Its About-Face

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[EDITORIALS]North Must Explain Its About-Face

North Korea suddenly announced Friday that it will postpone the fourth round of reunions of separated families. The announcement was made through Radio Pyongyang only four days before the scheduled exchanges, with no mention of when the meetings would resume.

The reason why the North suddenly hit the back of our heads is still not clear, and the decision to postpone the reunion indefinitely will have serious effects on the recently resumed inter-Korean talks. People's attention is focused on how the government will react to the North's decision.

South Korea has gone on alert against the possible impact of the U.S.-British strikes against Afghanistan in their war on terrorism. The North cites the alert as the reason for postponing the reunion of separated families. Surprisingly, Pyongyang has agreed to hold the sixth round of ministerial talks, the second round of economic cooperation committee meetings, and the second round of intergovernment talks on the Mount Kumgang tourism project as scheduled. Furthermore, the North suggested holding these meetings in Mount Kumgang. What is most baffling is why the North is placing a new obstacle in the way of developing inter-Korean relations by its actions. The North's explanation for postponing the family reunion is unconvincing.

Seoul made an appropriate decision by ordering a special alert against possible terror attacks after the United States began retaliatory strikes against Afghanistan. Furthermore, thorough preventive measures against terrorist attacks are unavoidable since we are co-hosting the World Cup in 2002.

We cannot understand why the North said Seoul's preventive measures go against the spirit of the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration. Even stranger is why Pyongyang believes South Korea's decision to put its forces on alert is a "dangerous act, inflicting a blow on its dialogue counterpart." Pyongyang believes that South Korea's alert is aimed at the North. But stronger anti-terror measures inside South Korea will lower the risk of possible "accidents" in inter-Korean talks that the North has always worried about.

Seoul is perplexed because it cannot understand Pyongyang's true motive behind the sudden action. The North's postponement of the family reunion could have negative effects on the North Korean regime. However, it proposed to go ahead with other intergovernment talks, which will bring positive gains for the troubled North Korean economy, on schedule but changed the venue for such talks to Mount Kumgang. We suspect that Pyongyang intended to swallow only that which benefits itself and spit out everything else. Seoul should focus on such a possibility and should never fall into a trap set by the North.

Hong Soon-young, minister of unification, sent a strong complaint to the North, following the orders of President Kim Dae-jung. That indicates that Seoul, which has long been dragged around by the North's violation of contracts, is finally making the right moves. We urge the government to demonstrate its resolve clearly to promote reciprocity, showing the North it can no longer break promises.

Pyongyang should learn that backstabbing will make the South Korean people, who have tried to understand and support the North, turn their backs. North Korea should provide a reasonable and convincing explanation as to why it abruptly postponed the reunion. Otherwise, it should hold the event as scheduled in a sincere manner.

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