South Korea and the United States will begin their annual joint military drills in the last week of February, a plan that could jeopardize an earlier inter-Korean agreement to resume long-suspended reunions for families separated by the Korean War.
"The ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command will hold the Key Resolve exercises, an annual defense training drill, from February 24th to March 6th. We also plan to hold the Foal Eagle exercises, which also take place every year, from February 24th to April 18th."
The dates coincide with the upcoming family reunions, scheduled for February 20th to the 25th at North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort.
The defense ministry said Pyongyang was informed of the dates on Sunday, but has not yet reacted to the plans.
North Korea has, however, previously threatened to scrap the reunions, should the South go ahead with the military exercises.
"We're clearly stating that dialogue and invasive war games can never co-exist, nor can reconciliation and conflict."
South Korea's Unification Ministry reiterated Monday the military drills, involving tens of thousands of troops, are defensive in nature and should not disrupt plans for family reunions.
"We have repeatedly explained that the Key Resolve exercises are annual defense training drills that will be conducted separately from the family reunion event. The South Korean government thinks the reunions must take place as planned no matter what."
Millions of Koreans were separated from their families during the Korean War more than six decades ago and some 70-thousand South Koreans, most of whom are now in their 80s, are on a waiting list to see their loved ones one last time.
Amid the uncertainty, South Korea has been preparing for the reunion event since last week.
The unification ministry said that although Mount Kumgang saw over one meter of snow over the weekend, snowplows sent by South Korea have already removed most of the snow that's accumulated at the prospective reunion site.
Hwang Sung-hee, Arirang News.