Hundreds of elderly Koreans, anxiously hoping to reunite with long-lost relatives on Feb. 20, are now left to the mercy of north-south relations.
North Korea released a statement Feb. 6 threatening to cancel the reunions, only one day after it originally confirmed the event, reports the New York Times.
The authoritarian government says it will follow through with this threat if South Korea does not cancel its military exercises with the United States scheduled for the last week of February.
Now the Koreans who were told they’d see family members missing since the end of the Korean War in 1953 must wait in uncertainty. If the threat is carried out, they will continue to be separated by the most heavily-guarded border in the world.
The border was erected at the end of the Korean War to divide the North and South. It also divided families, who to this day are not allowed to communicate.
Telephone calls, emails and letters are illegal, so government-run family reunions are virtually the only way families can reconnect, according to the New York Times.
These reunions are incredibly emotional, as it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a brother, sister, cousin or child.
Despite the fact about 72,000 Koreans are waiting to partake in a reunion, the events have been cancelled since 2010 due to poor north-south relations, reports BBC News.
Despite the threat, South Korea says it will continue with the military exercises.
“The exercise scenario is designed to allow officials to explore a range of possible alliance responses to a nuclear crisis involving the Republic of Korea,” says the US Department of Defense in a statement released Jan. 15.