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South Korea proposes rare talks with North to ease military tensions

South Korea has proposed holding military talks with the North, after weeks of heightened tension following Pyongyang's long range missile test

17 July 2017, 8:04am
Talks between North and South Korea are rare, and usually take place at Panmunjom, a truce village on the heavily fortified frontier that separates the two countries, where solders from both sides face off
Talks between North and South Korea are rare, and usually take place at Panmunjom, a truce village on the heavily fortified frontier that separates the two countries, where solders from both sides face off
South Korea on Monday proposed military talks with North Korea, the first formal overture to Pyongyang by the government of President Moon Jae-in, and said the two sides should discuss ways to avoid hostile acts near the heavily militarised border.

The offer of talks, aimed at easing tensions after Pyongyang tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, came as the Red Cross in Seoul proposed a separate meeting to discuss reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

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 1 August at the same venue.

If the government meeting goes ahead, it will mark the first official inter-Korea talks since December 2015.

The two sides technically remain at war but Moon, who came to power in May, has pledged to engage the North in dialogue as well as bring pressure to impede its nuclear and missile programmes

Moon's conservative predecessor, Park Geun-Hye, had refused to engage in substantive dialogue with Pyongyang unless the isolated regime made a tangible 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.

There was no immediate response by the North to the proposal.

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

Millions of families 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.

"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 at a press briefing.

"Talks and cooperation between the two Koreas to ease tension and bring about peace on the Korean peninsula will be instrumental for pushing forth a mutual, virtuous cycle for inter-Korea relations and North Korea's nuclear problem.”

Cho stressed that Seoul "would not seek collapse of the North or unification through absorbing the North."