N. Korea blames South for postponement of family reunions

SEOUL, Sept. 22 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Sunday blamed South Korea's confrontational policy for its abrupt decision to postpone the scheduled family reunions, further clouding the prospects for the highly anticipated event.

The latest response comes one day after Pyongyang unilaterally put off the reunions of family members separated by the Korean War six decades ago, just four days before the planned event. Both sides had exchanged the final lists of about 200 candidates to be reunited at the North's mountain resort of Kumgang from Sept. 25-30.

Seoul's unification ministry, in charge of inter-Korean affairs, immediately denounced the North's decision as "inhumane," saying it has "broken the hearts" of relatives desperate to be momentarily reunited.

On Sunday, Pyongyang's agency in charge of relations with the South accused the conservative government in Seoul of abusing inter-Korean dialogues and negotiations as a means to seek a showdown with the communist country.

"It is very clear that our efforts for improved ties and dialogue have been abused in the North-South confrontations, which makes it useless to make further efforts," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement.

The committee condemned Seoul of trying to "avoid responsibility and create animosity and malicious sentiment against North Korea," saying the future of the family reunions depends on the South's attitude.

"Though we want to resolve problems with the South, including humanitarian projects, we cannot ignore hostile tactics that hurt our dignity and pride," the North's committee said.

The cross-border reunions, the first of their kind in more than three years, have been considered 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 that had been suspended amid heightened tensions since April.

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.

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.

Millions of Koreans were separated from their families following the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, 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.

<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>