Reunions: Pyongyang refuses Seoul’s request

Seoul -

North Korea on Thursday rejected a formal request from South Korea for talks next week on holding further reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, Seoul's Unification Ministry said.

Visitors examine a picture of South Korean President Park Geun-hye inside the exhibition hall of the unification observation post near the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul. Picture: Lee Jin-man. Credit: Associated Press

The North's negative response came as a recent upswing in cross-border ties has been soured by South Korea-US military drills and a series of North Korean rocket and missile tests.

The North said “the proper atmosphere has not been created to discuss family reunions”, the Unification Ministry said in a statement.

Seoul had sent its request on Wednesday, proposing a meeting on March 12 at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

The Unification Ministry had called on Pyongyang to respond quickly and positively in view of the “pain and suffering” experienced by the separated families.

The initiative came a week after the two Koreas wrapped up the first such family reunion for more than three years - held at a mountain resort in North Korea from February 20 to 25.

On Tuesday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye had called for reunions to be held on a regular basis and for separated families to be allowed more ways to communicate - including by mail and video conferencing.

Because the 1950-53 conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, the two countries remain technically at war, and there is almost no direct contact permitted between their civilian populations.

Millions of Koreans were separated from their families by the war, and the vast majority have since died without having any communication at all with surviving relatives.

About 71 000 - mostly aged over 70 - are still alive and wait-listed for the reunion events, for which only about 100 from each side are allowed to join each time.

The reunion programme began in earnest after a historic North-South summit in 2000, but it has constantly been hampered by volatility in cross-border relations. - Sapa-AFP