Talks between North and South Korea collapsed Wednesday after the two sides failed to secure high-level military discussions, stoking fears that North Korea may stage another nuclear test.
The North Korean delegation walked away from the negotiating table, a move that was called "unilateral" by the South Korean Defense Ministry, according to JoonAng Daily.
The talks, in the border area of Panmunjom, held amid pressure from China and the US to reopen dialogue, were meant as a preliminary step toward six-party nuclear talks.
They were the first since the Yeonpyeong island bombing that killed four South Koreans last November, and the sinking last March of the South Korean corvette, the Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors.
Some worry North Korea may now stage another nuclear test, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Its first test came during a break in six-party talks in 2006, while George W. Bush as president was pursuing what the North saw as a hardline policy.
The North’s delegation refused to take any responsible action for the Cheonan sinking and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. The South Korean government had on Tuesday, the first day of talks, specified the North would have to take responsibility to move to higher-level talks, according to JoonAng.
“The North Korean delegation left, crossing over the military demarcation line at 2:50 in the afternoon today, and a schedule for another meeting could not be set,” Kim Min-seok, a Ministry of National Defense spokesman, said Wednesday. “For now, the talks are ruptured.”
The North’s delegation returned over the border during the lunch break, according to the defense ministry, then decided to end things 12 minutes after the afternoon round began.
Meanwhile, the countries' Red Cross agencies were due to discuss family reunions at the request of the north, which is concerned about the effects of international sanctions and a near-halt to trade with its neighbor.
But according to CNN, the resumption of these humanitarian talks may also be in jeopardy because of the collapse in military talks.
Seoul earlier Wednesday sent a message to the North saying that it agreed in principal to hold humanitarian talks, according to the Unification Ministry.
"We conveyed our agreement to hold the Red Cross talks," said Lee Jong-joo, a spokeswoman for South Korea's unification ministry, The Guardian reported. "The government shared the view on the urgency and importance of humanitarian issues, including the reunions of separated families."
Hundreds of thousands of people were separated during the war. More than 20,000 elderly South Koreans have been briefly reunited with relatives from the North over the past 10 years, but many among the 80,000 others may die before they are given the chance to meet relatives they last saw six decades ago.