North Korea threatens to renege on family reunions deal unless South scraps military drills with US

An elderly South Korean man wiping his tears as a North Korean relative (in the bus) waves to say good-bye after a luncheon during a separated family reunion meeting at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North's south-eastern coast, near the border on O
An elderly South Korean man wiping his tears as a North Korean relative (in the bus) waves to say good-bye after a luncheon during a separated family reunion meeting at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North's south-eastern coast, near the border on Oct 31, 2010. North Korea said on Thursday it may reconsider plans to hold reunions between families in the North and the South of the country if the United States and South Korea push ahead with planned annual military drills. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP/KOREA POOL

SEOUL (Reuters/AFP) - Barely a day after the two Koreas agreed to resume reunions for divided families, North Korea threatened on Thursday to renege on the deal unless the South scraps looming military drills with the United States.

“It’s outrageous that (South Korea) is pushing ahead with aggressive war manoeuvreing at a time when both sides reached a crucial agreement to realise national reconciliation and cooperation,” the North’s top military body, the National Defence Commission (NDC), said.

"At the time when the agreement was made on reunions of separated families and relatives at Panmunjom, a formation of the US B-52 strategic bombers were carrying out nuclear strike practices all day, aiming us," a spokesman at the policy department of the North's NDC was quoted as saying via the country's state-run television.

No one at the United States command in South Korea was immediately available to comment on the North's statement that B-52s had been deployed, and the United States Pacific command in Hawaii did not immediately return calls or e-mail messages.

In a rare example of cross-border cooperation, officials from North and South Korea agreed on Wednesday to hold a reunion on Feb 15 to Feb 20 for several hundred relatives separated by the 1950-53 Korean conflict.

It would be the first such event in more than three years, and the accord was hailed as a possible harbinger of warmer ties between the arch rivals. But Thursday’s NDC statement appeared to back up those who had warned that Pyongyang would use the reunion agreement as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from Seoul.

South Korea and the United States are set to start a series of annual military exercises at the end of the month, and the North has repeatedly demanded that they be called off.

As well as the joint drills, the NDC also condemned “slanderous” attacks in the South Korean media, and indicated particular annoyance with reports of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s recent visit to an orphanage. A picture of Kim wearing shoes while interacting with the orphans in their dormitory was pilloried in the South. The leading conservative South Korean daily, the Chosun Ilbo, said it displayed an “unimaginable” lack of manners.

Koreans never wear outdoor shoes inside the home – especially in living areas.

“We cannot but reconsider the implementation of an agreement that was already reached as long as there is a continued move to hurt the dignity of our supreme leadership and slander our system,” the NDC statement said.