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S. Korea Proceeds with Reunion Preparations Amid Tensions

A woman who said she has family members living in North Korea waits for her turn to prepare documents for reunion at the Red Cross building in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 8, 2015.

South Korea says it will proceed with preparations for a inter-Korean family reunion event despite a possible long-range rocket launch by North Korea.

A South Korean Unification Ministry official, who asked to remain anonymous, told reporters Tuesday that the government would do its best to prepare for the event, which is slated to begin in late October.

His comments came shortly after North Korea made a series of threats that raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea said it had the capacity to launch a nuclear attack on the United States if Washington continued with a “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang.

On Monday, North Korea said it planned to put a “series of satellites” into space, an indication that the communist country could conduct a long-rage rocket launch despite international sanctions banning such a launch.

Recently, North Korea erected a 67-meter tower at its northwestern rocket launch site in Tongchang-ri, sparking wide speculation that the country might be preparing for a long-range rocket launch to mark the ruling party anniversary on October 10.

Korean relations at risk?

Pyongyang's threats appeared to jeopardize inter-Korean ties that have been on thin ice since late August, when the two Koreas reached a deal reducing tensions and promoting dialogue and exchanges, including a resumption of reunions of families separated during the Korean War six decades ago.

The South Korean Unification Ministry official walked a delicate line on possible consequences of the North Korean rhetoric. When asked whether the threats would be a violation of the inter-Korean agreement, the official declined to answer directly, saying Seoul would take proper actions if necessary.

Another official said it was difficult for the government to prejudge what Pyongyang might do. The official said relevant parties were monitoring the situation closely.

Red Cross officials from the two sides have exchanged lists of candidates for the reunion. The two sides plan to exchange a final list of participants, 100 from each side, next month.

The weeklong event is to begin October 20 in Mount Kumkang, North Korea’s famous resort. South Korea plans to dispatch a team of officials to the resort Wednesday to inspect a meeting room.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.