S. Korea voices regret over Pyongyang's move to hold off family reunion talks

SEOUL, July 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Friday expressed regrets over Pyongyang's move to hold off talks on resuming programs to reunite families separated by the Korean War and urged the communist country to reconsider its decision.

North Korea earlier this week had proposed talks on helping temporarily reunite separated family members on both sides and restarting cross-border South Korean sightseeing tours to a mountain resort on its east coast.

When South Korea accepted only one of North Korea's offers -- family reunions -- Pyongyang put a hold on both of its proposals.

"The family reunion program is a purely humanitarian matter that needs to be handled as soon as possible," Kim Hyung-suk, a spokesman for South Korea's Unification Ministry, said. "With the passage of time, the number of people who have applied for reunions with their loved ones is declining rapidly."

Millions of South Koreans were separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. Of the more than 128,000 South Koreans who applied to meet with their families in the North, only 72,000 are alive, with over 80 percent of them more than 70 years old, according to government figures.

South Korea said that any discussions on resuming tours to Mount Kumgang in North Korea should wait until ongoing talks on a suspended inter-Korean industrial complex in North Korea's border city of Kaesong are wrapped up.

The industrial complex came to a screeching halt in early April in the midst of heightened tensions following the detonation in February of a nuclear device by the North. Two rounds of talks on the issue so far have failed to produce a compromise. A third round is scheduled for Monday.

Under an agreement reached with North Korea earlier, a convoy of more than 100 trucks crossed the border into the industrial complex on Friday to bring back finished goods that South Korean factory owners left there when they withdrew in April.

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