Pyongyang ignores calls for frequent reunions, aid

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Pyongyang ignores calls for frequent reunions, aid

President Park Geun-hye has again ordered related government officials to enter into negotiations with North Korea to make the reunions of families separated during the 1950-1953 Korean War a regular event.

“I was told for surviving separated families to meet with their siblings on the other side of the Korean Peninsula at least once, the size of the annual gathering should be increased to above 6,000 people,” the president said yesterday in a cabinet meeting.

“I request the Ministry of Unification and the Korean Red Cross to negotiate with North Korea to regularly organize the reunions and to make it possible [for separated families in both Koreas] to check up on the well-being of their siblings, exchange letters and chat over video call.”

Her command follows an announcement a week earlier that the government would launch a unification preparation committee.

The new body, to be installed directly under the presidential office, will be responsible for conducting unification-related research and information gathering while collecting and consolidating public opinion.

North Korea, however, has remained silent over Park’s proposal for regular reunions. Neither has Pyongyang responded to Seoul’s offer on Feb. 24 to provide medical assistance.

It is currently struggling to contain an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, a highly infectious virus that can kill livestock. Instead, just a day after it launched two short-range missiles, Pyongyang, as of 6 p.m. yesterday, fired seven additional short-range projectiles toward the eastern sea.

Starting at around 4:17 p.m. yesterday, over the course of an hour, North Korea fired four missiles from the Wonsan area in Kangwon Province, according to South Korean defense officials. They were launched using what is presumed to be a new 300-millimeter (11.8-inch) multiple-rocket launcher, known as KN-09, which has a range of about 155 kilometers (96 miles).

Early yesterday morning at around 6 a.m., North Korea also fired three short-range projectiles with a 50-kilometer range using 240-millimeter multiple-rocket launchers from the Wonsan region toward the east coast.

Previously on Monday morning, North Korea fired two missiles, presumed to be 500-kilometer range Scud-Cs, in a northeastern direction toward the sea from launch sites in the Kitdaeryong and Wonsan regions. Seoul immediately warned the North to halt such provocations.

In response, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Monday urged North Korea to “refrain from provocative actions” and to “exercise restraint.” The United States and South Korea are in the midst of holding joint annual military drills.

Pyongyang yesterday called Washington out for deploying a nuclear-powered submarine on Monday in Busan for the ongoing military exercises, calling it “a provocation for a nuclear war” on the Uriminzokkiri, North Korea’s propaganda website.

On Thursday, North Korea test-fired four short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea from a launch site in Kitdaeryong, a mountainous region in Kangwon Province, which flew about 220 kilometers in a northeastern direction. On Feb. 21, Pyongyang fired four artillery shells on the east coast with what is speculated to be the new KN-09 multiple-rocket launchers.

BY SEO JI-EUN, SARAH KIM [spring@joongang.co.kr]


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