North Korea, South Korea in talks after 2 yrs; tensions easing?
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Last Updated: Sunday, June 09, 2013, 11:20
  
Zee Media Bureau

Seoul: In what signals at tensions easing over the Korean peninsula, North Korea and South Korea on Sunday held government level talks at the border village of Panmunjom.

Government delegates from both the neighbouring countries, met in what was a first high level talks in more than two years.

The meeting comes after Pyongyang on Thursday showed a reconciliatory act by proposing talks over the stalled jointed industrial zone named Kaesong.

North had caused the industry to stall by withdrawing its 53000 workers in a slew of hostile acts and threats that included cutting hotline connection with South.

On Friday, Pyongyang had also reconnected the hotline between the two neignbours, starting the process of easing tensions.

The placatory moves by hermit kingdom come after months of tension between the two neighbours in wake of North Korea conducting nuclear tests in December 2012 and Feb this year.

This led to UN imposing sanctions on North and what added fuel to the fire was, joint US-South Korea drills that angered Pyongyang.

March and April saw North Korean threats of nuclear war, Pyongyang's claim that the Korean War armistice was void, the closing of a jointly run factory park and a North Korean vow to ramp up production of nuclear bomb fuel. The meeting at Panmunjom, where the truce ending the 1950-53Korean War was signed, is the first of its kind on the Korean Peninsula in more than two years. Success will be judged on whether the delegates can pave the way for a summit between the ministers of each country's department for cross-border affairs, which South Korea has proposed for Wednesday in Seoul. Such ministerial talks haven't happened since 2007.

The intense media interest in what's essentially a meeting of bureaucrats to iron out technical details is an indication of how bad ties between the Koreas have been.

Any dialogue is an improvement on the belligerence that has marked the relationship over recent years, which have seen North Korean nuclear tests and long-range rocket launches, attacks in 2010 blamed on the North that killed 50 South Koreans, and a steady stream in recent months of invective and threats fromPyongyang and counter-vows from Seoul.

"Today's working-level talks will be a chance to take care of administrative and technical issues in order to successfully host the ministers' talks," one of the South Korean delegates, Unification Policy Officer Chun Hae-sung, said in Seoul before the group's departure for Panmunjom.

The southern delegation will keep in mind, he said, "that the development of South and North Korean relations starts from little things and gradual trust-building."

If the Koreas can arrive at an agreement for ministerial talks, that meeting will likely focus on reopening the factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong that was the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, and on other scrapped rapprochement projects and reunions of families separated by the Korean War.

Pyongyang pulled its 53,000 workers from the Kaesong factories in April, and Seoul withdrew its last personnel in May.

Success will also mark a victory for South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who took office in February and has maintained through the heightened tensions a policy that combines vows of strong counter-action to any North Korea provocation with efforts to build trust and re-establish dialogue.

The site of Sunday's meeting holds added significance because the armistice ending the Korean War was signed there 60 years ago next month. The Panmunjom truce, however, has never been replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula technically at war.

Representatives of the rival Koreas met on the peninsula in February 2011 and their nuclear envoys met in Beijing later that year, but government officials from both sides have not met since.

The talks between the Koreas on Sunday could represent a change in North Korea's approach, analysts said, or could simply be an effort to ease international demands that it end its development of nuclear weapons, a topic crucial to Washington but initially not a part of the envisioned inter-Korean meetings.

With Agency Inputs


First Published: Sunday, June 09, 2013, 09:33


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