Two Koreas begin high-level talks

Seoul, Feb 12: South Korea and North Korea began a high-level inter-Korean dialogue, the first time in about seven years, at the border village of Panmunjeom Wednesday.

Seoul’s unification ministry said five delegates from both sides started the high-level dialogue around 10 a.m. in the Peace House on the South Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjeom, Xinhua reported.

Kim Kyou-hyun, Seoul’s chief delegate and first deputy chief of the presidential national security office, told reporters before heading to the dialogue venue that he would meet his North Korean counterpart with “an open mind and attitude to explore the chance of opening a new Korean Peninsula”.

Kim said he would focus on the family reunion event to be held as agreed this month, and noted that no agenda has been decided for the dialogue table.

The North Korean delegation is being led by Won Dong-yon, deputy head of the united front Department of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.

The officials level inter-Korean talks are the first since May 2007 when the two Koreas held their last high-level meeting.

The two Koreas originally planned to hold the inter-governmental dialogue in June 2013, but North Korea cancelled the meeting, citing the low rank of the chief delegate that South Korea planned to send to the dialogue table.

The five-member delegation from South Korea is expected to bring issues of regularly holding family reunions and successfully staging the agreed family reunion this month to the dialogue table, while stressing the need for North Korea’s abandonment of its nuclear weapons programme to make fundamental progress in inter-Korean relations.

Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to hold the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War Feb 20-25 at North Korea’s scenic resort of Mount Kumgang.

The North Korean delegation is expected to demand cancellation of the joint annual military exercises between Seoul and Washington, while bringing on the agenda resuming tours to the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea’s southeast coast.

The tour, launched in 1998, was halted in July 2008 when a South Korean female tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier after she ventured into an off-limit area.

Last Thursday, Pyongyang repeated its call for the cancellation of the South Korea-US annual military drills, saying that dialogue and the rehearsal for war of aggression could never be compatible.

Combined forces of South Korea and the US will conduct the ‘Key Resolve’ and ‘Foal Eagle’ war games Feb 24-April 18, dates that overlap for two days with the family reunion event.

IANS