North suddenly offers reunions of split families

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North suddenly offers reunions of split families

Pyongyang abruptly agreed to cooperate with reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War after the Lunar New Year holiday.

The offer to hold reunions in the Mount Kumgang resort came yesterday evening.

The South Korean government responded to say it welcomed the offer.

Earlier yesterday, North Korea’s National Defense Commission penned an open letter to the South saying it is determined “to create an atmosphere of reconciliation and unity.”

The letter, carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency and on the front page of the Rodong Sinmun, was a follow-up to a recent peace proposal combined with a demand that Seoul cancel annual military drills with the United States that run between February and April.

But the South said it was unconvinced by the letter, and Seoul called for North Korea to show prove its words through actions.

The letter, supposedly issued under a special order from leader Kim Jong-un, said the proposal of last week “is neither a deceptive peace overture nor propaganda warfare.”

On Jan. 16, the National Defense Commission demanded that the South stop all “provocative acts” and proposed that both sides halt “slander and insults” against each other starting Jan. 30, the first day of Korea’s Lunar New Year holiday. Pyongyang also said it planned to take the first steps to follow through on its reconciliatory proposal.

Korea dismissed the proposal and its demands and said North Korea has a history of using conciliatory sounding propaganda as a prelude to a provocation or an actual attack on the South.

The Ministry of Unification said yesterday North Korea is deploying artillery, attack helicopters and submarines to the West Sea area, and said the danger of it shelling South Korea persists.

Another source told the JoongAng Ilbo that North Korea secretly carried out military exercises simulating an attack on a civilian airport in South Korea on Jan. 19 that included special jet fighters designed to infiltrate Southern territory.

The letter released by the North yesterday emphasized its sincerity and again called for the “complete halt of hostile military acts,” adding that it did not ask the South to stop all military drills.

It also called for the resumption of tours to the Mt. Kumgang resort and a revitalization of inter-Korea cooperation and exchanges.

Sin Son-ho, the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, was scheduled to hold a press conference in Geneva on Friday in an apparent extension of this conciliatory gesture.

The South’s Ministry of National Defense yesterday dismissed the North’s letter and said, “North Korea itself has to lower such threats to resolve the issue.”

Defense Ministry deputy spokesman Wi Yong-seop told reporters at a briefing, “Now is the time that North Korea should show sincerity not with words but with action.

“From a military viewpoint, the most important thing is to see the enemy’s hidden face,” Wi added. “Our army is bolstering our crisis management system and security posture to be prepared to respond immediately to unexpected enemy provocations or threats.”

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae echoed those sentiments and said yesterday, “We believe that North Korea needs to show actions rather than just throwing out words.

“North Korea these days continually speaks of reforming [inter-Korea] relations],” said Ryoo, “but if you look at the contents carefully, they are full of contradictions.”

But he added, “Unification of course is possible when North and South Korea become partners heading towards unification.”

The United States is also wary of the North’s gestures of peace, as analysts have pointed out that North Korea has had a pattern of provocations around the time of the two-month annual war games between Seoul and Washington, called Foal Eagle and Key Reserve, which begin in late February and last until April.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, confirmed at a Pentagon press conference yesterday that the United States would be conducting key military exercises with Korea next month despite North Korean demands.

“We are watching very closely what’s going on and we are prepared to defend the alliance as well as our homeland,” he said.


BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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