SEOUL: North Korea threatened on Thursday to renege on an agreement to hold a reunion for families divided by the Korean War unless South Korea scraps planned military drills with the United States.
The threat came barely a day after the two sides set dates for the reunion. It drew a sharp rebuke from Seoul, which warned Pyongyang against dashing the hopes of separated family members in the North and South.
In a statement broadcast on state television, the North’s top military body, the National Defence Commission (NDC), said it was “outrageous” for South Korea to push ahead with the joint military exercises when cross-border efforts were being made for reconciliation.
“Dialogue and exercises of war of aggression… cannot go hand in hand,” the NDC said.
The annual South-US joint drills are scheduled to begin late February, despite the North’s repeated demands for their cancellation.
The dates agreed on Wednesday for the family reunions were February 20-25, which would likely see them overlap with the start of the military exercises.
It would be the first reunion event in more than three years, and the accord was hailed as a possible harbinger of warmer ties between the arch rivals.
But Thursday’s NDC statement appeared to back up those who had warned that Pyongyang would use the reunion agreement as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from Seoul.
The South Korean government issued a statement condemning the North’s stance, and stressing there could be no linkage between the reunion and the drills.
“North Korea should not repeat its behaviour of hurting the elderly separated families who have waited for the reunions for more than 60 years,” the statement said.
“We make it clear that it is imperative for North Korea to fullfil the agreement on family reunions this time,” it added.
A reunion planned for September last year was cancelled by the North at the last minute.