S. Korea again urges N. Korea to hold family reunions

SEOUL, Jan. 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's top official in charge of relations with North Korea on Wednesday again urged Pyongyang to hold reunions for families separated after the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea spurned Seoul's recent proposal to hold family reunions later this month, citing, among other things, South Korea's upcoming joint military exercises with the United States.

Last week, the North dangled the prospect of family reunions as it called for an end to all slander and all hostile military actions between the two Koreas.

A key demand in the North' overture is the cancellation of joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S., which Pyongyang claims are a rehearsal for a nuclear war against it.

South Korea has dismissed the North's overture as a "deceptive" ploy and vowed to go ahead with the joint drills set to run from late February through April.

The North's overture is nothing but "propaganda and rhetoric," Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said.

He called on the North to keep its word on family reunions, saying the Koreas can reach another deal if the North follows through on its agreement. He did not elaborate on what he meant by another deal.

The North "should keep what it has promised and agreed upon," Ryoo said at a Seoul forum.

Ryoo appeared to refer to an agreement reached between the sides to hold family reunions at Mount Kumgang, a mountain resort on North Korea's east coast, in September last year.

The North abruptly canceled the reunions at the last minute.

The divided Koreas have held more than a dozen rounds of reunions since their landmark summit in 2000, bringing together more than 21,700 family members who had not seen each other since the Korean War. Most of the separated family members are in their 70s and 80s and want to see their long-lost relatives before they die.

The conflict ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the two sides still technically at war.

There are no direct means of contact between ordinary civilians of the two countries that remain divided by a heavily fortified border.

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