North declines reunions offer

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North declines reunions offer

North Korea rebuffed South Korea’s proposal to hold reunions of war-torn families before the Lunar New Year, but it added that the meetings might be possible in some future “good season.”

The Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, North Korea’s mouthpiece for inter-Korean affairs, sent a fax to South Korea yesterday in reply to Seoul’s request, reported the Korean Central News Agency, the regime’s official media.

“While the South will be carrying out its continuous war games and scheduling large-scale military exercises soon, the committee asked how we could hold reunions in a situation in which barrages of bullets are flying,” the KCNA said.

South Korea is planning to hold its annual joint military drills with the United States in late February or early March. North Korea has protested the exercises, calling them “war practice.” Seoul’s stance is that they are regular drills for self-defense. The proposed timing, the Lunar New Year holidays, is also a problem, North Korea said.

“The committee sees the Lunar New Year holidays as a matter to consider, in terms of its timing and the season,” the KCNA said.

“If [the South] has any intention to negotiate on our [other] proposals all together, we would probably be able to sit together at a table in a good season.”

The offer to hold the reunions would be seen as “a goodwill gesture,” North Korea said in the fax, according to the KCNA.

“The committee said it would be fortunate to resume the reunions,” KCNA said. “We proposed them last year and completed most of the procedures, but the arrogant act of the South led them to be withdrawn.”

On Sept. 25 to 30, 2013, ahead of the Chuseok holidays, the two Koreas were supposed to hold two rounds of reunions of 200 families in the Mount Kumgang resort, which is in North Korea.

The Ministry of Unification confirmed yesterday that it received the fax from Pyongyang.

“We think it is regrettable that North Korea linked the matter of our annual military exercises with the humanitarian issue [of family reunions],” said a statement by the Unification Ministry yesterday.

Although North Korea did not cite the other “proposals” it wants to discuss, South Korea assumes it is referring to the reopening of Mount Kumgang’s resort, said a source of foreign exchange for the impoverished regime.

“The other proposal that North Korea wants to discuss alongside the reunions appears to refer to the Mount Kumgang resort,” a Unification Ministry official told reporters at a briefing yesterday. “Given the context of the message, the ‘good season’ probably means a time when there are no military exercises in South Korean waters, maybe in the spring.

“We don’t see the message as a refusal for the reunions themselves, but of the working-level talks we proposed tomorrow,” the official said.

The ministry proposed on Monday to hold low-level talks today at Panmunjom to discuss the reunions, hours after President’s Park Geun-hye’s press conference on Monday, at which she said she hoped the reunions could be held.

Seoul said it would deal with the Mount Kumgang resort issue separately from the reunions.

Since a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard in July 2008, South Korea has demanded an official apology and measures to prevent such an incident in the future. North Korea has refused both.


BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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