Saturday 16 December 2017

South Korea urges North to speed efforts to reunite families separated since war

U.S. Special Representative for North Korean Policy Glyn Davies (second left) speaks with South Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Kyou-hyun (third left) during their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul today. Photo: REUTERS/Ed Jones/Pool
U.S. Special Representative for North Korean Policy Glyn Davies (second left) speaks with South Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Kyou-hyun (third left) during their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul today. Photo: REUTERS/Ed Jones/Pool
US Special Representative for North Korean Policy Glyn Davies (left) speaks with South Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Kyou-hyun during their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul today. Photo: REUTERS/Ed Jones/Pool
U.S. Special Representative for North Korean Policy Glyn Davies shakes hands with South Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Kyou-hyun during their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul today. Photo: REUTERS/Ed Jones/Pool
A North Korean soldier takes photographs of a South Korean soldier standing guard at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) separating North Korea from South Korea, about 55 kilometres north of Seoul today.
A North Korean soldier stands guard as others patrol at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) separating North Korea from South Korea. Photo: REUTERS/Korea Pool/Yonhap
Kim Jong Un

South Korea urged the North today to speed efforts for reunions of families separated since the war that divided the neighbors, but vowed to continue joint military drills with the United States, despite protests from Pyongyang.

Uncertainty remained whether the North would keep its pledge to hold the reunions ahead of the start of the drills, but the South said it would not use the military exercises as a means to secure the family event.

The North proposed the family reunions last week in a move welcomed by both China, its sole major ally, and the United States. If they come about, the reunions would be the first such event in more than three years.

But the North has yet to respond to a call by the South for the event to be held over six days in February and for a meeting to hammer out location and logistics.

"(We) expressed regret that the North has been showing an uncertain and passive position on the reunions of separated families, despite having accepted the proposal to hold them," a spokeswoman of South Korea's Unification Ministry said.

North Korean media have instead trumpeted the country's longstanding demand for a halt to the military drills, a frequent sticking point in the rivals' effort to improve ties.

The North calls the drills a prelude to war, despite the South's denial and assurance that they are defensive exercises that have been held for decades with no major incident.

Glyn Davies, the U.S. envoy on North Korea policy, met his South Korean counterpart in Seoul on Tuesday. Both rebuffed Pyongyang's call to stop upcoming military drills.

"We will continue on a transparent basis to conduct these defensive exercises so that we are ready should, God forbid, any contingency arise," Davies said after the meeting.

Tensions soared last year as Pyongyang reacted angrily to tightened U.N. sanctions imposed in response to its latest nuclear test.

The two Koreas remain technically at war, as their 1950-53 civil conflict ended in a truce and not a peace treaty. The war left millions of families divided, with private travel across the border and communication, including phone calls, banned.

The family reunions typically see the separated relatives meeting for fleeting moments at a resort in Mount Kumgang just north of the Korean border.

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