North Korea on Thursday rejected a South Korean proposal for talks to be held next week to discuss holding, on a regular basis, reunions of families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry.
The ministry said in a statement the head of North Korea's Red Cross Society sent a notice to its counterpart in the South that said the "environment and atmosphere" to hold the proposed Red Cross working-level talks next Wednesday at the truce village of Panmunjeom has not yet been created.
The North also said discussing on such an important humanitarian issue as holding family reunions on a regular basis is not a matter that should be handled at Red Cross talks.
The ministry expressed regret over the rejection, saying reunions of separated families are a "most urgent issue" and they should be held without being linked to other issues.
Pyongyang's rejection came a day after Seoul proposed holding Red Cross talks to discuss South Korean President Park Geun Hye's proposal for regularly scheduled family reunions.
In a speech last Saturday, Park said regular reunions should be held because time is running out for the separated family members, most of whom are in their 70s and 80s and have expressed a strong wish to see their long-lost relatives before they die.
Last month, North and South Korea held the reunion events at the North's Mt. Kumgang resort for the first time in more than three years.
The two Koreas first arranged temporary reunions for separated family members after a landmark inter-Korean summit in 2000. The reunions so far brought together more than 20,000 family members who had not seen each other since the war.
South Korea on Thursday criticized the North's recent firings of short-range missiles and rocket-propelled projectiles as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.