South Korea seeks rare talks with North to ease ten­sions

The Daily Telegraph - - World News - By Our For­eign Staff

SOUTH Korea of­fered to hold rare mil­i­tary talks with North Korea yes­ter­day, aim­ing to ease ten­sions af­ter Py­ongyang tested its first in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile.

The of­fer of talks, the first since South Korea elected dovish pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in, came as the Red Cross in Seoul pro­posed a sep­a­rate meet­ing to dis­cuss re­unions of fam­i­lies sep­a­rated by the Korean War, which took place across the penin­sula from 1950 un­til 1953.

The South’s de­fence min­istry pro­posed a meet­ing to be held on Fri­day at the bor­der truce vil­lage of Pan­munjom, while the Red Cross of­fered to hold talks on Au­gust 1 at the same venue.

If the govern­ment meet­ing goes ahead, it will mark the first of­fi­cial in­ter-korea talks since De­cem­ber 2015. Moon’s con­ser­va­tive pre­de­ces­sor Park Geun-hye had pre­vi­ously re­fused to en­gage in sub­stan­tive di­a­logue with Py­ongyang un­less it made a firm com­mit­ment to de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion.

“We make the pro­posal for a meet­ing … aimed at stop­ping all hos­tile ac­tiv­i­ties that es­ca­late mil­i­tary ten­sion along the land bor­der,” the de­fence min­istry said in a state­ment.

The Red Cross said it hoped for “a pos­i­tive re­sponse” from its coun­ter­part in the North to en­able fam­ily re­unions in early Oc­to­ber. If re­alised, they would be the first for two years.

Mil­lions of fam­ily mem­bers were sep­a­rated by the con­flict that sealed the di­vi­sion of the two coun­tries. Many died without get­ting a chance to see or hear from their fam­i­lies on the other side of the heav­ily-for­ti­fied bor­der, across which all civil­ian com­mu­ni­ca­tion is banned.

With the pas­sage of time, the num­ber of sur­vivors has di­min­ished, with around 60,000 mem­bers of di­vided fam­i­lies still left in the South.

“North Korea should re­spond to our sin­cere pro­pos­als if it re­ally seeks peace on the Korean Penin­sula,” Cho My­oung-gyon, Seoul’s uni­fi­ca­tion min­is­ter in charge of North Korea af­fairs, told re­porters.

Cho stressed that Seoul “would not seek col­lapse of the North or uni­fi­ca­tion through ab­sorb­ing the North”, and urged Py­ongyang to re­store cross-bor­der com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels in­clud­ing a shut­tered mil­i­tary hot­line.

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