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South Korea Slams North for Linking Military Drills to Family Reunions

South Korean army soldiers aim their weapons during an anti-terror drill as part of Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise, at Sadang Subway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015.

The South Korean government slammed North Korea’s argument that divided family reunions will materialize once the United States and South Korea cease joint military drills.

During a press briefing in Seoul Wednesday, Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee emphasized the military exercises are defensive, routine drills that should be unrelated to family reunions.

“The family reunion is an acute humanitarian issue we need to tackle immediately. It is very far-fetched and inappropriate [for the North] to link the two issues,” Jeong told reporters.

Last Saturday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye urged the North’s cooperation in exchanging a roster of divided family members from both sides of the demilitarized zone before the year’s end. She was speaking at a ceremony to celebrate the 70th Korean Liberation Day from Japanese colonial rule.

The president also urged North Korean leadership to collaborate on other mutually beneficial projects such as sports and cultural exchanges and building a trans-Korea railroad.

Pyongyang immediately rejected Seoul’s suggestion.

The official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Rodong Sinmun, argued Tuesday that an end to joint military exercises by Washington and Seoul will naturally lead to reunions of families separated by the Korean War.

The newspaper allocated an entire page for its Wednesday edition to include colorful criticism of the South Korean leader’s Liberation Day speech.

In the meantime, the U.S. and South Korea began their annual joint military drill this week, slated to run through August 28. The exercise involves 50,000 South Korean and 30,000 U.S. soldiers.

The Ulchi Freedom Guardian has been held annually since the 1970s, with North Korea repeatedly denouncing it as preparations for war. Washington and Seoul insist the drills are purely defensive in nature.

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