South Korea expects reunions of family members separated by the Korean War to go ahead later this month, even after North Korea demanded a delay in the start of military drills set to coincide with visits.
The demand for a delay marked a softening of the North’s position. Kim Jong Un’s regime had previously insisted the annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle U.S.-South Korean exercises be scrapped altogether, calling them preparations for an invasion. The joint exercises start Feb. 24, five days into the scheduled Feb. 20-25 family reunions at a mountain resort in North Korea.
South Korea’s Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl Jae disputed a Yonhap news agency report today that the North may cancel part of the reunions, last held in 2010, if the drills weren’t delayed.
“North Korea, too, has the willingness to hold the family reunions,” Ryoo said today at a parliamentary hearing to brief lawmakers on yesterday’s talks between the two Koreas. “I think it will go well this time. Reunions will be held without a problem.”
The two sides held talks inside the heavily armed demilitarized zone, marking the first high-level meeting since 2007, that came one day before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Seoul as part of his three-nation Asian trip. The talks involved a South Korean presidential security adviser and a senior North Korean Workers’ Party official.
“We maintained our stance that we cannot accept the demand, because linking the South Korean-U.S. military exercises to family reunions violates the principle that a military issue cannot be linked to a purely humanitarian issue,” the ministry said today in an e-mailed statement.
Relations between the two Koreas have shown signs of improvement this year after they agreed to revive reunions of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War, which technically continues because it ended without a peace treaty.
About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a legacy of that war. Earlier this week, the State Department said the U.S.-South Korean drills are defensive and routine, insisting they not be linked to the case of detained American Kenneth Bae after the North rescinded its invitation for a U.S. envoy to travel to Pyongyang to discuss his release.
To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Kim in Seoul at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at firstname.lastname@example.org