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North and South Korea have begun high-level talks

TIME:2018-01-09 |  BackRead (123)

North and South Korea have begun high-level talks, the first between the countries in two years.


The meeting started at 10:00 local time (01:00 GMT) at the Peace House in the truce village of Panmunjom.

The talks will focus on North Korea's possible participation in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, taking place in South Korea in February.

South Korea also said it would raise ways to improve inter-Korean relations.

Relations between the Koreas deteriorated after Seoul suspended a joint economic project at the Kaesong Industrial complex in North Korea following a rocket launch and nuclear test by the North.

The incident led to North Korea breaking off communications with Seoul, including cutting off telephone contact. The last high-level talks between the two countries were in December 2015.

Tensions have risen in the years since as the North continues to rapidly advance its banned weapons programme.

Focus on the Olympics

On Monday, Seoul's unification minister re-iterated that the Olympics would be the "focus" of the talks, but added that other issues would be raised.

"When discussing inter-Korean relations, the government will seek to raise the issue of war-torn families and ways to ease military tensions," said Cho Myoung-gyon, who will be leading the five-member delegation to the talks.

The North will also be sending a delegation of five, led by Ri Son-gwon, the chairman of North Korea's state agency in charge of affairs with the South.

Mr Ri is known as a veteran negotiator who has been leading North Korean delegations since 2006.

"Both Koreas are proceeding cautiously, but what they would like to see happen is [the meeting] becoming a springboard for further contacts and interactions," North Korean leadership expert Michael Madden told the BBC.

"What we're seeing are the baby steps of incremental rapprochement."

After the Korean war ended in a truce in 1953, Panmunjom was designated as the one place where officials from both sides could meet.

The "truce village" is divided into two parts by a military demarcation line: one side belonging to the North, the other to the South.

In the middle of the village sit the UN Command buildings, crossing the middle of the line.

Last year, a North Korean defector made a dash through the DMZ, managing to cross over to the South Korean side of Panmunjom.

'Groundbreaking chance'

Last week South Korea offered high-level talks with the North, after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he was considering sending a team to the Olympics in Pyeongchang

The move led to North Korea restoring a telephone hotline to South Korea, enabling the first contact about holding talks. Pyongyang later accepted the South's offer of talks.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in said he saw the Winter Olympic Games as a "groundbreaking chance" to improve relations between the Koreas.

US President Donald Trump called the talks a "big start", adding that it would be a "great thing for all of humanity" if they resulted in a positive outcome.

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