North Korea suspends family reunifications with South

Citing ‘hostile intent’ from South Korea, Pyongyang cancels planned visits for 100 families indefinitely

South Korean Choi Gye-Wol (L) kisses the hand of her grandson Kim Chol-Bong as her son Kim Young-Nam watches, before she returns to her South Korean home after the Separated Family Reunion Meeting on June 30, 2006 at Diamond Mountain in North Korea.
Lee Hun-Koo/Getty Images

North Korea announced Friday an indefinite postponement to planned reunions between family members split across the border with the South as a result of the 1950-53 war.

Citing joint military exercises carried out by South Korea and the United States, and a perceived crackdown on pro-North Korean activists in the South, the North’s Committee for Peaceful Reunification of Korea said it had called off the meetings “until there can be a normal atmosphere where dialogue and negotiations can be held.”

The decision, reported by North Korean news agency KCNA on Friday, comes just a month after the two countries agreed to resume the reunification program.

The highly-orchestrated, much-publicized ceremonies have in the past seen South Koreans traveling to an agreed-upon North Korean town or resort, where families get a few days to spend time together before leaving. The last reunions were in 2010.

The latest round of reunions, agreed to last month, would have taken place at a resort in southeastern North Korea and have involved 100 families. It represented a fraction of the approximately 72,000 South Koreans who are on the waiting list to meet family members in the North.

But the number of relatives seeking reunions is shrinking, as those who were old enough to remember a united Korea pass away from old age.

The postponed meetings had been seen as a significant step in thawing icy relations between Seoul and Pyongyang.

Earlier this month, a jointly-run industrial park on the border of North and South Korea was reopened. It had been closed since April, when tensions mounted after the North made threats to use nuclear weapons on the South and the United States.

It’s unclear what specifically prompted the North to indefinitely suspend the program on Friday. KCNA reported that the North perceives the South as having a “hostile intent.”

Nuclear talks

Also on Friday, the foreign minister of North Korea's key ally, China, pushed for the restarting of international talks on the contentious issue of North Korea's nuclear program.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the Washington-based Brookings Institution think tank that North Korea is ready to recommit to the goal of denuclearization through a past program of talks that were initially hosted by Beijing and involved six countries.

Wang said North Korea is ready to come back to a 2005 commitment on giving up nuclear weapons, and to an agreement it reached with the United States in February last year on freezing its nuclear programs in exchange for food aid.

North Korea withdrew from the aid-for-disarmament talks in 2009, and over the past year has made clear it wants to be treated as a nuclear weapons state.

"Now that the DPRK (North Korea) side has reiterated it will come back to the denuclearization goal, it is time for the six parties to have serious dialogue to work out how we can achieve that goal," Wang said through an interpreter.

Wang said he is discussing with the U.S. how to set a "reasonable threshold" for the resumption of the talks that would be acceptable to all six countries involved. They also include Japan, Russia and South Korea.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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