Korean peninsula

North Korea calls off much-awaited family reunion plan with South

Government blames Seoul for cancellation, leaving separated families disappointed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 3:53pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 3:01pm

North Korea has indefinitely postponed reunions for families separated since the Korean war, just days before they were to resume, leaving relatives "disappointed beyond description".

The highly symbolic and emotional meetings of selected families from the North and South, separated for six decades by the 1950-53 Korean war, would have been the first reunions in three years.

The North's Korean Central News Agency quoted the government as blaming Seoul's "hostile" policy for the last-minute cancellation, singling out the South's military exercises with the United States and a recent crackdown on allegedly pro-Pyongyang leftists.

Analysts believe the move is designed to place pressure on the South to resume cross-border tours to a scenic resort that is an important source of revenue for the North's cash-strapped communist regime.

"We postpone the impending reunions of separated families until a normal atmosphere is created for talks and negotiations to be able to move forward," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said. "As long as the South's conservatives deal with inter-Korean relations with hostility and abuse ... such a basic humanitarian issue as family reunions cannot be resolved."

Millions of Koreans were separated by the Korean war, which sealed the peninsula's division. Most have died without the chance to reunite with the family members they last saw 60 years ago. The two sides had agreed to hold six days of reunions at the North's Mount Kumgang resort from September 25 to 30.

Kang Neung-Hwan, 92, who was desperate to see his son who lives in the North, told Yonhap news agency: "I am greatly disappointed. It's increasingly painful for me to wait to see my son."

Koh Jeong-Sam said his 95-year-old mother had already bought presents she wanted to give to her sisters in the North. "My mother was disappointed beyond description," he said.

The South's Ministry of Unification expressed "deep regret" at the North's "unilateral" and "inhumane" action, which it said could not be justified under any circumstances.

"The breach of a hard-won agreement by the North would bring inter-Korean relations back to confrontation. There will be nothing for the North to gain," the ministry said.

The final list of relatives who would have benefited carried the names of 96 South Koreans and 100 North Koreans, although the actual numbers were expected to be higher because each selected candidate could take a number of relatives.

The reunion programme had been suspended after the North's shelling of a South Korean border island in November 2010.