North Korea postpones family reunions with South

North Korea postpones family reunions with South
North Korean soldiers stand near industrial materials along the bank of Yalu River.

SEOUL - North Korea on Saturday said it would indefinitely postpone highly-anticipated reunions of separated families that were due in four days' time.

The North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) cited the government as saying Seoul's "hostile" policy was to blame, though observers 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 Pyongyang.

"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 was quoted as saying.

"As long as the South's conservatives deal (with) inter-Korean relations hostility and abuse...such a basic humanitarian issue as family reunions cannot be resolved."

It attacked Seoul over joint military exercises with the United States and its recent crackdown on allegedly pro-Pyongyang leftists.

South Korean government officials were not immediately available for comment.

The two Koreas had earlier agreed to hold six days of reunions of some 100 families from each side from September 25-30 at the North's scenic Mount Kumgang.

The highly symbolic event would have been the first reunions in three years for families separated for decades by the 1950-53 Korean War.

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

Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies said Pyongyang was using the family reunions as means to put pressure on Seoul to press its demand for the resumption of tours to the North's Mount Kumgang.

"Pyongyang is seeking to use the family reunions as a leverage to force Seoul to agree to resume tours to Mount Kumgang", Yang told AFP.

The South suspended the tours to the mountainous resort in 2008 after a North Korean soldier shot dead a tourist who strayed into a restricted zone.

Seoul says it won't restart the tours to Kumgang, a cash cow for the North developing nuclear weapons and missiles, unless Pyongyang apologises explicitly over the killing of the Southern tourist.

Millions of Koreans were left separated by the Korean War, which sealed the peninsula's division. Most have died without having had a chance to reunite with family members last seen six decades ago.

About 72,000 South Koreans -- nearly half of them aged over 80 -- are still alive and wait-listed for a chance to join the highly sought-after family reunion events, which select only up to a few hundred participants each time.

At the emotional, often tearful reunions, North and South Koreans typically meet in the North for two or three days before the South Koreans head home again.

The reunion programme began in 2000 following an historic inter-Korean summit. Sporadic events since then have seen around 17,000 relatives briefly reunited.

The last such meeting took place in late 2010, before the North's shelling of Yeonpyeong island.

Inter-Korean relations have showed signs of improving recently after months of heightened military tensions that followed the North's nuclear test in February

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