North Korea said it won't allow divided elderly family members in the DPRK and South Korea to meet for a reunion, after having been separated for more than 60 years by the Korean War. The decision was surprising rejection of a proposal by South Korean President Park Geun-hye to resume the practice, that has been a key part of any reconciliation plans between the two nations.
According to The New York Times, roughly 22,000 people participated in 18 sanctioned reunions between 1985 and 2010 when ties between the nations grew tense. Last September, North Korea indicated that it would agree to hold more such reunions again before walking back the claim.
Park announced the recent proposal, as well as a concurrent offer of humanitarian aid for the North, in her first news conference as president last year. It was a move that signified a slight retreat from previously aggressive stance against the North's constant agitation. But the effort was not enough to convince Pyongyang to agree to the reunions, according to The Washington Post:
North Korea said that Park had made a “good offer,” but one that belied the South’s “present stance of confrontation.” ...
The North also criticized the South for a series of unremarkable offenses, ones that include “indiscreet” comments from “media, experts and even authorities” and a recent speech from Park that touched on the North’s weapons program and leadership turmoil.
Park had hoped the meetings could take place around the lunar new year, which falls on January 31. North Korea said the season was not right for the meetings, suggesting that it won't have time to prepare, but that it would consider allowing the reunions at a later date, possibly after the South's scheduled war exercises. The North stipulated, however, that it would only consider allowing the reunions if talks start about reopening a joint tourism program at North Korea's Diamond Mountain resort, defunct since North Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean tourist there in 2008. South Korea said that condition could prove problematic.
This rejection is considered mild by North Korean standards, which typically brandishes outlandish threats — like telling South Korea it will "strike mercilessly without notice," turn a South Korean island into a "large graveyard," or warn the U.S. it will be plagued with a "horrible disaster," and so on — and could actually be a sign that North Korea is interested in repairing ties with the South. Someday.
Supreme North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's violent rhetoric and rash decisions to sever ties with the South in the last year have already heavily burdened the North's economy. When Kim ordered the five-month shuttering of Kaesong, an industrial park jointly operated by the North and the South, his poverty-stricken country was robbed of an essential source of income.
Currently, around 73,000 South Koreans — roughly 36,500 of them over 80 years old — are currently on the reunion waiting list, hoping to reconnect with siblings, children and parents they have not seen in decades. Many of them cannot afford to wait much longer.