02/06/2014, 00.00
KOREA
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Pyongyang backpedals: Seoul must cancel ‘war games' with US or no family reunions

The powerful National Defense Commission, the highest executive body led by dictator Kim Jong-un, has issued a statement calling on the South to cancel military exercises: "Dialogue and exercises of war of aggression cannot go hand in hand". Yesterday, during bilateral talks, no objections were expressed .

Seoul ( AsiaNews) - In an unexpected turnaround , the North Korean government has requested the South cancel the annual military exercises with the United States " if it wants to save the family reunions" scheduled for February 20. The direct request is from the powerful National Defense Commission, the highest executive body led by Dictator Kim Jong -un. In a message read on the national radio and television, the Commission says: "Dialogue and exercises of war of aggression cannot go hand in hand".

The threat comes less than 8 hours after the conclusion of the bilateral talks that took place yesterday in two tranches in the village of Panmunjom, where the armistice putting an end to the hostilities of the Korean War was signed in 1953. A real peace treaty between Seoul and Pyongyang was never signed, and the two capitals both claim to be the "legitimate rulers" of the entire Korean peninsula.

According to the agreement yesterday, about 200 families divided by the separation of North and South Korea could meet between 20 and 25 February. A larger number - as yet undefined - could instead talk to each other via the Internet. In addition, the possibility of resuming South Korean tours of the "holy places" in the North and the reopening of the Mount Kumgang resort (one of the most famous of the peninsula) run by Pyongyang and currently closed for lack of customers, was mentioned.

Pyongyang had expressed reservations yesterday about the military exercises between the South and the United States - that take place every year involving the 29 thousand U.S. soldiers still stationed in Korea: "The hostile military acts should not undermine the atmosphere for inter-Korean reconciliation". In September, 2013, the "war games" were indicated by the North as a reason for the last minute cancellation of already planned family reunions. For now the reasons for the North's turnaround are unclear. What is certain is that it will produce a toughening in the relationship between North and South

There are about 73 thousand South Koreans who want to embrace their families left behind in the North. Of the war survivors, 9.3 % are over 90 years of age, 40.5% over 80 and 30.6% over 70. For obvious reasons it is impossible to have the data for the North Koreans.

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