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Seoul pressures Pyongyang on reunion

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AFP

An elderly South Korean man wipes away his tears as a North Korean relative (in the bus) waves to say goodbye after a family reunion at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North's south-eastern coast. File picture: AFP

Seoul - South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Friday warned North Korea not to renege on its agreement to host a reunion for families divided by the Korean War.

Park's comments came a day after Pyongyang said it would have to reconsider its commitment to the reunion event, citing South Korean-US military exercises and “slanderous” articles in the South Korean media.

The two rivals had agreed - during rare talks on Wednesday - to hold the reunion for several hundred separated relatives from February 20 to February 25.

A similar event had been planned last September, but North Korea cancelled at the last minute - an act that Park stressed should not be repeated this time around.

“North Korea must not hurt the separated families so deeply again,” a press pool report quoted Park as saying before the start of a security meeting with government and military officials.

Park said the reunion would provide momentum for reconciliation on the Korean peninsula, but voiced concern over “instability” in Pyongyang following the recent purge and execution of North Korea leader Kim Jong-un's uncle and political mentor Jang Song-thaek.

Despite the doubt now hanging over the reunion, more than 60 South Korean officials crossed into the North on Friday to inspect the Mount Kumgang resort venue where it is to be held.

“We are going to strive to fully prepare for the events by checking and repairing facilities so the elderly can conveniently meet their loved ones,” Park Geuk, a South Korea Red Cross official, was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.

Among the delegation were officials from the South's giant Hyundai corporation, which constructed the Kumgang resort as a destination for South Korean tourists.

The facility was opened in 1998, but the tours were suspended in 2010 after North Korean guards shot dead a female tourist who had wandered off the approved path.

North Korea has played both hawk and dove with the South since the start of the year, threatening Seoul if it pushes ahead with the US joint exercises, while also proposing a series of potential tension-reducing measures.

“Recently, North Korea has launched an apparent peace offensive but we must keep our guard up all the more,” Park said.

“We must maintain a firm defence posture in order to prevent provocative acts by the North and if it provokes us, we have to punish them thoroughly,” she added.

Millions of Koreans were separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, and the vast majority have since died without having any communication at all with surviving relatives. - AFP


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