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North Korea threatens to pull out of family reunions

By K.J. Kwon, CNN
updated 1:38 PM EST, Thu February 6, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • SK minister: "The agreement must be kept"
  • The reunions will take place between February 20 and 25, South Korea says
  • North Korea canceled previously scheduled reunions last year
  • Tensions remain over U.S.-South Korean drills

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- North Korea says it may back out of the family reunions it agreed to hold with South Korea if the latter continues with the annual drills it holds with the United States.

Annual military exercises in the region by South Korean and U.S. forces are scheduled for the end of this month.

"The reckless act of war is a violent violation and infringement of humanitarianism," a spokesman for the North Korean Policy Department of the National Defense Commission said Thursday.

"It does not make sense to carry out the reunion of families, who were separated due to the War, during a dangerous nuclear war practice."

The drills, the South Korean defense ministry said Thursday, will go on.

The reunions of about 100 people from each country are scheduled to take place between February 20 and 25, the South Korean unification ministry said Wednesday, following face-to-face talks between the two sides.

If they go ahead, the meetings of divided Korean families would be the first to take place since 2010.

North Korea has unceremoniously pulled the plug on such meetings in the past.

"If such agreements get turned around repeatedly, it cannot move forward," South Korean Unification Minister Rhoo Kihl-jae told reporters. "We've seen these in the past several decades. To expand the trust, I want to say that the agreement must be kept."

Koreans push for family reunions

Drills infuriate N.Korea

The drills infuriate North Korea, which says it sees them as a prelude to an invasion. Last year, it ratcheted up its threatening rhetoric to alarming levels as the exercises took place.

In its calls so far this year for better relations, North Korea has asked South Korea not to take part in the drills -- a request that Seoul and Washington have rejected.

Past disappointment

Reunions were due to take place last September, but Pyongyang canceled them with only a few days notice, accusing Seoul of souring ties between the two countries.

The reunions are an emotive issue. And time is running out for many of the surviving members of the families that were split by the 1950-53 war between the two Koreas. A lot of them are now in their 80s and 90s.

Tens of thousands of people in South Korea are on the list of those wanting to take part in the reunions.

This month's planned reunions are scheduled to take place at the site where previous ones were held: Mount Kumgang, a resort on the North Korean side of the border that used to be jointly operated by both sides.

North Korea blames South, cancels family reunions in September

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