Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 4 News List

North Korea scraps family reunions

AFTER THE MISSILESThe South's decision to put humanitarian aid talks on hold prompted the North to respond by canceling cross-border family reunions

AGENCIES , SEOUL

Kim Young-nam, third from left, his son Kim Chol-bong, second from right, and his wife Pak Chun-hwa, right, look at picutres with their South Korean family member Choi Gye-wol, third from right, and Kim Young-jan during the Separated Family Reunion Meeting at Diamond Mountain in North Korea last month.

PHOTO: AFP

North Korea said yesterday it would scrap cross-border family reunions on the divided Korean Peninsula, accusing Seoul of siding with its Western allies in the standoff over Pyongyang's missile launches.

The North's Red Cross chief, Pyongyang Jae-on, slammed South Korea for "abusing the humanitarian issue for meeting its sinister purpose to serve the outsiders."

"Our side is, therefore, of the view that it has become impossible to hold any discussion related to humanitarian issues, to say nothing of arranging any reunion between separated families and relatives between the two sides," he said in a letter to South Korea.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun condemned the North yesterday for potentially sparking an arms race with its recent missile tests, but cautioned other countries against making provocative responses that could further raise tensions in the region.

"North Korea's missile launches are wrong behaviors that not only violate peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and increase tension, but spark an arms race that doesn't help anyone, Roh told a meeting of top security officials, according to presidential adviser Song Min-soon.

At Roh's security meeting yesterday, the South's government decided it would seek to solve the issue peacefully through dialogue and use diplomatic efforts to draw the North back to stalled six-nation nuclear talks, Song said.

However, Roh said, "behaviors that create unnecessary tensions by responding excessively ... don't help solve the issue."

He didn't name any specific country, but has previously criticized Japan after reports that it was considering a pre-emptive strike against the North.

Tokyo has said in recent days that it is moving to impose sanctions against Pyongyang.

At inter-Korean ministerial talks last week, South Korea urged Pyongyang to give an assurance that it would stop firing off any more missiles and return to the six-party talks on its nuclear weapons program.

But North Korea has refused to budge, insisting that the US should first remove financial sanctions it imposed on the North for alleged money laundering and counterfeiting.

In response, South Korea refused to discuss further humanitarian aid until a breakthrough is made in the missile and nuclear issues.

North Korean delegates issued an angry statement warning of "disastrous" consequences for inter-Korean ties.

The two Koreas decided at a landmark summit in 2000 to start more systematic reunions for relatives separated by the war.

Since then more than 13,600 Koreans have taken part in the reunions. The last meeting of this type took place last month at North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort.

Jang said South Korea had placed another "a stumbling block" in the path of inter-Korean reconciliation.

"This is an act of treachery little short of sacrificing the humanitarian work between fellow countrymen to serve the US and Japan keen on applying sanctions against [North Korea] with bitterness toward it," he said.

Therefore, it is impossible to arrange a special video meeting of separated families that was to mark Korea's liberation from Japan's colonial rule on next month and to construct a reunion center at the Kumgang resort, he said.

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