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Pyongyang Cancels North-South Family Reunions


In a retaliatory swipe over South Korea's punitive measures against Pyongyang, North Korea has canceled reunions scheduled for next month between families separated since the 1950s Korean War. The move is the latest blow to inter-Korean cooperation since Pyongyang test-fired a series of missiles two weeks ago.

North Korea followed through on its earlier warning that South Korea "would pay" for suspending aid shipments to the North in response to Pyongyang's missile launches.

Pyongyang has canceled video reunions between separated families in the two Koreas, which were scheduled for next month. The announcement was broadcast on North Korean television.

The announcer says humanitarian issues "have ceased to exist" between North and South, because Seoul is using humanitarian aid for "impure purposes." Under those circumstances, he says the North views reunions of separated families as impossible.

Millions of families were split by the three-year Korean War, which ended in 1953, and have been barred from crossing the armed border dividing the two countries. Limited reunions, mainly for elderly Koreans, have been the centerpiece of attempts to thaw relations between the two countries, which technically remain at war.

But the North-South relationship took a turn for the worse after Pyongyang defied South Korean warnings and on July 5 tested several missiles. Besides freezing food and fertilizer aid to the impoverished North, South Korea rejected military talks with Pyongyang, and backed a U.N. resolution condemning the launches. North Korea describes the South's actions as "anti-humanitarian and anti-national."

Kim Young-guan, the head of an advocacy group for separated families here in Seoul, says he is not very surprised by the announcement.

He says North Korea has always used the family reunions as a tool to extract food and other material concessions from South Korea.

South Korea shows no sign of softening its response over the North Korean missile tests.

Officials in the South say Pyongyang can improve its situation by not testing any more missiles, and by returning quickly to six-nation talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs.

South Korea and the United States say they would be willing to meet in a five-nation format with Russia, China, and Japan, rather than let North Korea's boycott keep the talks on indefinite hold.

Pyongyang has refused to return to the talks since last September, saying first the United States should lift sanctions imposed against North Korean businesses for alleged money laundering. Washington says the sanctions are legal matters separate from the North's unfulfilled pledge to end its nuclear programs.