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DPRK, ROK officials meet in Panmunjom

By Agencies in Seoul | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-10 08:17

DPRK, ROK officials meet in Panmunjom

Kim Song-hye (left), head of the delegation from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, shakes hands with Chun Hae-sung, the Republic of Korea's unification policy officer, in the border village of Panmunjom on Sunday. ROK Unification Ministry / Associated Press

Working-level talks aim to prepare for ministerial meeting in Seoul

The first working-level talks in more than two years between officials of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea began on Sunday in the border village of Panmunjom, according to the ROK's Yonhap News Agency.

Working contacts at Freedom House on the ROK side of the truce village are aimed at preparing for a ministerial meeting to be held on Wednesday in Seoul.

Last Thursday, the DPRK proposed holding inter-governmental talks with the ROK on issues including normalization of operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the DPRK border town of Kaesong, and resumption of tours to Mount Kumgang on the 13th anniversary of the June 15 joint declaration, said a statement issued by the DPRK's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea.

The ROK accepted the proposal on the same day, hoping the talks would help forge trust.

The ROK suggested ministerial-level talks be held on Wednesday in Seoul in order to resolve issues related to restarting the Kaesong complex and the Mount Kumgang tours as well as the reunion of families separated by the Korean War, ROK Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told a news conference.

Chun Hae-sung, who is leading the three-member ROK delegation, told reporters before leaving for the talks that every effort will be made to build trust that can lay the foundation for improving relations.

Representing the DPRK was Kim Song-hye, a senior official of the reunification committee.

The intense media interest in the meeting is an indication of how strained ties had become between the DPRK and the ROK.

Any dialogue is an improvement on the belligerence that has marked the relationship over recent years, which have seen DPRK nuclear tests and long-range rocket launches, attacks in 2010 blamed on the DPRK that killed 50 ROK citizens, and a steady stream in recent months of invective and threats from Pyongyang 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," said the ROK's Chun.

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".

During the morning talks, the delegates discussed the agenda for the ministerial meeting, as well as location, date, the number of participants and how long they will stay in Seoul, if the meeting is held there, the ROK Unification Ministry, which is responsible for DPRK issues, said.

Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk told reporters that there were no major disputes and the talks would continue.

Analysts express wariness about the DPRK's intentions, with some seeing the interest in dialogue as part of a pattern where Pyongyang follows aggressive rhetoric and provocations with diplomatic efforts to trade an easing of tension for outside concessions.

Recent months saw DPRK threats of nuclear war, it's claim that the Korean War armistice was void, the closing of a jointly run factory park and a DPRK vow to ramp up production of nuclear bomb fuel.

If the two countries can arrive at an agreement for ministerial talks, the meeting will likely focus on reopening the factory park in Kaesong, which was the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, and on other scrapped rapprochement projects.

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

The two countries have been communicating on a recently restored Red Cross hotline that Pyongyang shut down during earlier tensions this spring.

The site of Sunday's meeting holds added significance because the armistice ending the Korean War was signed there 60 years ago next month.


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