North Korea Cancels Family Reunions Until ‘Normal Mood’ Prevails

North Korea canceled plans for reunions this week of families separated by the division of the peninsula, and accused South Korean leaders of “throwing obstacles” in the way of reconciliation.

“Family reunions will be postponed until a normal mood is created to proceed with talks and negotiations,” according to a statement from the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, cited Sept. 21 by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. “Hard-won inter-Korean ties are again inching close to a serious crisis”, the committee said in the statement.

The North also put off talks on resuming tours by South Koreans to its Mount Geumgang resort after recent weeks of improved relations between the two sides. Kim Jong Un’s regime accused the South of seeking confrontation, and threatened “strong and decisive” retaliation against any military provocation.

“The North has expressed its dissatisfaction with the South’s somewhat passive attitude towards the resumption of Geumgang tours, and it’s now seeking South Korea’s stance on that,” said Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “Depending on what President Park Geun Hye indicates about Geumgang tour resumption, the postponement could be shortened or extended even until next year.”

‘Inhumane’ Decision

Cross-border relations had improved in recent weeks, even as international concern mounted that the North may have reactivated a 5-megawatt reactor capable of producing enough plutonium to produce one nuclear weapon each year.

South Korea’s government condemns the North’s decision as “inhumane,” Kim Eui Do, a Unification Ministry spokesman, said on Sept. 23. “The North is again driving the recent dialogue mood toward confrontation. It should realize that nothing will come from that.”

According to a Sept. 16 statement from the Korean Red Cross, some 96 South Koreans were to meet family members from the North on Sept. 25-27, while 100 North Koreans were to meet their relatives on Sept. 28-30. The majority are aged at 80 or older, including 28 people in their 90s.

‘Desperate Issue’

Some 129,035 South Koreans have reported they have family members in the North since 1988, although 56,544 of them are now dead, according to the Unification Ministry data. One of the South Koreans waiting for the reunion event passed away a few days ago and three had to give up the trip due to health problems, the unification ministry’s Kim said Sept. 21.

“This is such a desperate issue to the old people,” he said.

The two sides reopened their joint industrial complex on Sept. 16, reviving the lone symbol of economic cooperation five months after it was shuttered amid the North’s threats of preemptive nuclear attack.

The agreement to reopen Gaeseong paved the way for a separate accord to revive reunions of families separated by the Korean War, which were to take place at the Mount Geumgang resort in North Korea Sept. 25-30.

A North Korean naval ship fired across the bow of a Russian fishing boat off the communist country’s east coast on Sept. 21, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The vessel was boarded by the North Koreans and searched before being allowed to continue its journey, the ministry said. No one was hurt and the ship wasn’t damaged, it said.

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