NEW: South, North Korean officials start talks in Panmunjom, Yonhap reports
The talks are another sign of thawing relations between the Koreas
North Korea set off months of tensions with a long-range rocket launch in December
It was followed by an underground nuclear test in February
North Korean and South Korean officials held their first government-level talks in years on Sunday, South Korean media reported.
The talks were held in the village of Panmunjom, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. They come days ahead of an inter-Korean ministerial meeting planned for Wednesday at the request of the South’s unification minister, Ryoo Kihl-jae.
The talks are another sign of improvement in the severely strained relations between the two Koreas.
Pyongyang on Friday reconnected a hotline between the two sides that it had severed amid recent tensions.
The proposed talks are the clearest sign yet of an improvement in the severely strained relations between the two sides after North Korea set off months of unsettling tensions with a long-range rocket launch in December followed by an underground nuclear test in February.
The North broke the impasse between the two sides over the Kaesong Industrial Zone – a shared industrial complex and major symbol of cooperation between the two countries where Pyongyang halted activity in April – by issuing a proposal on Thursday for talks.
It said that “the venue of the talks and the date for their opening can be set to the convenience of the south side.”
South Korea reacted quickly and positively to the offer, noting that it had been “continuously” seeking talks on Kaesong since the North shut it down.
The North expressed appreciation for the South’s response Friday, and said “working contact” between the two governments is necessary before ministerial talks. It proposed that the lower-level meeting take place in Kaesong on Sunday.
It also reopened the Red Cross hotline in the border area of Panmunjom, an important line of communication between the two sides that it had cut off as tensions flared earlier this year.
The South Korean Unification Ministry said later Friday that it had sent a fax through the hotline agreeing to the working-level talks but asking that they take place in Panmunjom rather than Kaesong.
The working-level talks will be held at Panmunjom on Sunday, South Korea’s national news agency, Yonhap reported.
The shuttered Kaesong complex is one of the main casualties of the recent threats and provocative moves by North Korea.
In April, Kim Jong Un’s regime began blocking South Koreans from entering the manufacturing complex, which sits on the North’s side of the heavily fortified border and houses the operations of more than 120 South Korean companies.
Pyongyang then pulled out the more than 50,000 North Koreans who work in the zone’s factories, saying it was temporarily suspending activity there. The last South Koreans in the zone left last month.
The North Korean decision to halt operations surprised some observers, since Kaesong was considered an important source of hard currency for Kim Jong Un’s regime.
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