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N. Korea abruptly postpones family reunions with S. Korea


SEOUL, Sept. 21 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Saturday it is postponing the planned reunions for families separated for six decades since the Korean War, accusing the South of seeking confrontation with the communist nation.

The two Koreas have prepared to hold a round of family reunions at the North's scenic mountain resort of Kumgang from Sept. 25-30, in one of a series of signs of a thaw in relations between the two sides, along with the reopening of a joint industrial complex in the North.

On Saturday, however, the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement that it is putting off the family reunions until "a normal atmosphere can be created" for the two sides to hold talks and negotiations.

The North also postponed the planned negotiations with the South, slated for Oct. 2, on how to reopen the mountain resort, another joint project that has been suspended since the 2008 shooting of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean guard at the resort.

In the statement, the North accused the South of abusing all inter-Korean dialogues and negotiations as a means to seek confrontation with the communist country. It also vowed to take "decisive countermeasures" against what it calls the South's attempt to start war against it.

"Dialogue and war can never go together," said the statement carried by Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency.

The North also said it won't just sit by and watch the South "oppress pro-unification, patriotic figures," apparently referring to a leftist lawmaker and his followers recently arrested on treason charges.

Rep. Lee Seok-ki and colleagues of his Unified Progressive Party were charged with organizing an underground entity, known as Revolutionary Organization, and plotting to overthrow the South's government in a scheme suspected of links to North Korea.

The North said the oppression of them showed the South is bent on confrontation with Pyongyang. It also accused the South of intensifying a "witch-hunt" against all those who are calling for inter-Korean reconciliation and unification.

Saturday's announcement underscored the unpredictability of the regime in Pyongyang and the difficulty in dealing with it. The North has a track record of backtracking from or canceling agreements at the last minute.

Comment from the South Korean government was not immediately available.

Millions of Koreans were separated from their families following the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the two sides still technically at war. Their border is tightly sealed, and there are no direct means of contact between ordinary civilians.

The divided Koreas have held 18 temporary reunions since a landmark summit between their leaders in 2000, bringing together more than 20,000 family members who had not seen each other since the war.

The last reunions were held in 2010.

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