North Korea has postponed a scheduled series of reunions for families separated for six decades since the 1950-53 Korean War, dealing a blow to months of efforts to improve relations between the neighbours.

In a statement on Saturday, the North accused South Korea of “poisoning dialogue to heighten the conflict” and said “the reunions will happen when there can be a normal atmosphere for negotiations to be held”.

Six days of meetings between family members still separated after the war had been due to start on Wednesday in the Mount Kumgang resort, north of the militarised border.

The reunions would have been the first in nearly three years.

North Korea also said it was putting off planned talks on resuming tours of Mount Kumgang, suspended after a North Korean guard shot dead a South Korean tourist in 2008. The talks had been set early October.

There was no immediate comment from the South Korean government.

Technically at war

The neighbours remain technically at war as the 1950-53 war ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty. The conflict left millions of families divided, with travel across the border all but impossible and nearly all forms of communication barred.

The abrupt announcement upended an easing of tensions in recent months.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul told Reuters that authorities in Pyongyang were trying seeking to secure more concessions from the South, a recurring tactic used by the North.

Concessions on this occasion, he said, were aimed particularly at lucrative tourism to Mount Kumgang.

"For North Korea, the tours come first and family reunions come later. It is the opposite for South Korea", he said.

Source: Reuters