North rebuffs proposal for family reunions

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North rebuffs proposal for family reunions

North Korea rejected South Korean lawmakers’ call to hold a reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, saying Wednesday there can “never be any kind of humanitarian cooperation” between the two countries unless 13 North Koreans “detained” in the South are returned.

They include a group of 12 workers from a restaurant in China run by the North Korean government, whom Seoul says defected voluntarily last year. Pyongyang claims they were kidnapped by South Korea’s spy agency.

The North also wants a 13th citizen, Kim Ryon-hui, a vocal Kim Jung-un endorser here who wishes to go back home. She left her home in Pyongyang to seek advanced medical treatment in China for a liver illness. She asserts to have been deceived by a Chinese broker in 2011, who told her she could make a fortune in the South and then return to China or North Korea.

Seoul maintains that Kim is now a South Korean citizen who is beholden to the law. South Korean nationals are prohibited from contacting the North or entering the country without prior government permission.

“They should be returned immediately,” Kim Yong-chol, an official from the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Unification of Korea, told the AFP Wednesday in Pyongyang. The father of one of the 12 restaurant workers “died with his eyes open and cursing the conservative elements who have detained his daughter,” said Kim.

“Unless Kim Ryon-hui and 12 other women workers are returned immediately,” he continued, “there can never be any kind of humanitarian cooperation.”

This was North Korea’s “principled stand,” he stressed.

A senior official at the Unification Ministry, South Korea’s equivalent to the Committee for the Peaceful Unification of Korea which handles inter-Korean relations, said Thursday he was informed that the 12 women made it clear they have no desire to return to the North.

On Monday, the ruling Democratic Party and two opposition blocs in the legislature agreed to support a resolution calling for a reunion between family members separated by the Korean War to be held on Aug. 15, when South Korea celebrates the peninsula’s liberation from Japan at the end of World War II.

The reunions have been stalled since October 2015.

Pyongyang’s rejection of family reunions also comes after it turned down a South Korean civic group’s offer to visit Pyongyang this Saturday to provide humanitarian aid, suggesting the two sides talk “after inter-Korean relations improve.”

The head of the civic group said he was told by North Korea they were “infuriated” by Seoul’s support of a recently passed UN Security Council resolution sanctioning its officials and companies, and questioned the South’s sincerity in establishing friendly ties with the regime.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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