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North Korea rejects reunions plan

South proposed uniting families long separated

SEOUL — North Korea on Thursday rejected South Korea’s proposal to hold reunions of elderly relatives separated by the Korean War six decades ago, but it kept the door open for a possible thaw in relations between the two Koreas.

On Monday, President Park Geun Hye had proposed resuming the reunions of separated families in time for the Lunar New Year’s Day on Jan. 31, a traditional time for family gatherings in Korea, saying it would be an important first step toward improving relations on the divided peninsula.

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It was Park’s first concrete overture toward North Korea since assuming office last year. She spent her early months as president taking a tough stance against the North, which conducted its third nuclear test two weeks before her inauguration in February.

Last spring, she warned of decisive retaliation when North Korea threatened nuclear and missile attacks against the South and its ally, the United States, and withheld any significant aid shipments until North Korea promised to give up its nuclear weapons.

In her proposal Monday, made at her first news conference as president, Park sweetened her overture with a promise to increase humanitarian aid for the impoverished North and to let South Korean civic groups help rebuild the North’s farm sector.

But on Thursday, North Korea sent the South a message saying that the mood was not right for holding family reunions.

It blamed South Korean news reports and analyst commentaries that included a scathing criticism of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, and quoted senior South Korean government officials who worried about possible political instability in the North following the purge of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek. Jang was executed on Dec. 12 on charges of corruption and involvement in a plot to overthrow Kim’s government.

In rejecting the reunions, North Korea also bristled at the military exercises South Korea has conducted recently and plans to hold with the United States around early March. The North calls these drills rehearsals for invasion.

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