AFP, SEOUL \nAn inexperienced South Korean official's joke about North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Il sparked a serious disruption to reunions of separated families from the two Koreas, officials said yesterday. \nSouth Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-Hyun issued a public apology to the separated families, putting the blame for the episode on insufficient training of officials dealing with North Koreans. \n"I sincerely apologize over the halting of the reunions which was caused by inappropriate remarks made by our official while exchanging pleasantries with North Korean officials," he said. "We will double our efforts to prevent any recurrence." \nHis comments came after North Korea called off events set for the remaining half of Friday including plans for separated families to tour and dine together with their long-lost relatives, calling for an official apology. \nThe separated families were spending their second day of a three-day stay with their relatives from the other side of the Korean Peninsula for tearful reunions for the first time in five decades. \nAn inexperienced South Korean official accompanying southern visitors had joked about a slogan eulogizing Kim Jong-Il that was engraved in big letters on a huge rock at the North's scenic Mount Kumgang. \nThe slogan, reading "Heaven-sent genius commander, Kim Jong-Il," is the most conspicuous among several drilled onto the rocks of the mountain. \nBut "heaven-sent" written in the Korean alphabet is a homonym of the words "the lowly." \n"Doesn't that mean `the lowly' Kim?," the unidentified South Korean official was quoted by the Munhwa daily as telling North Koreans during lunch. \nNorth Korea then scrapped the remainder of Friday's schedule. \nIt took the South an overnight marathon meeting with North Koreans and a letter of apology to calm the angry North Koreans. \nSouthern tourists visiting the North are told by South Korean guides to avoid discussing politics and leadership. \nIt was the first time a reunion of separated families was disrupted since such events began following a historic inter-Korean summit in 2000.
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