For hundreds of thousands of families on the Korean peninsula, the hope of being reunited with relatives who have long been separated by the North/South border is disappearing as quickly as it began.
Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, began the year stating that he was open to ameliorating the tense, and sometimes hostile, relationship between North and South Korea, which would include the reunion of families separated by the 1950–1953 civil war. However, various conditions have impeded the actual initiation of these talks.
According to Reuters, North Korea recently demanded that South Korea lift the sanctions that it imposed after the May 2010 attack of a South Korean naval vessel, as a condition of participating in talks with their southern neighbor. Forty-six sailors died in the attack, which resulted in the termination of a large portion of the political and commercial exchanges between the two countries. North Korea, however, has never taken responsibility for the event.
North Korea’s news agency, KNCA, quoted a spokesperson for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea as emphasizing, “If the South Korean government is sincerely interested in humanitarian issues, it should first remove the ban that was imposed for the purpose of confrontation.”
In response to the North’s demands, the South’s Unification Ministry stated, “It is regrettable that North Korea has linked the purely humanitarian issue of separated families to the May 24 measure, which is completely irrelevant.”
However, North Korea cited yet another demand. They have also asked that the South restrict its civic groups from sending leaflets via balloon that criticize the North Korean government. The North has similarly incorporated the cessation of joint U.S.–South Korean military drills into their demands as a prerequisite to commencing peaceful dialogue. Historically, North Korea has denounced these drills as preparation for a northward invasion. However, the United States and South Korea have repeatedly stated that these drills have occurred for decades and are of a defensive nature.
To many, Kim’s new stance was a surprising shift. In an annual televised message meant to bring in the New Year, Kim stated that he would “make every effort to advance dialogue and negotiations… [and that the] tragic division between the Korean peninsula should be healed.”
Nonetheless, Kim’s many prerequisite conditions have paused the momentum for an eased relationship between North and South Korea, resulting in the continued separation of thousands of families.
[Featured Image Courtesy of KNS/AFP/Getty Images]