South Korea offers rare talks with North to avoid border conflict
Offer comes after North’s recent claim to have tested intercontinental ballistic missile
A South Korean soldier at a checkpoint near the Demilitarised Zone. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA
South Korea has proposed military talks with North Korea, the first formal overture to Pyongyang by the government of President Moon Jae-in, to discuss ways to avoid hostile acts near the heavily militarised border.
There was no immediate response by the North to the proposal on Monday for talks later this week. The two sides technically remain at war but Mr Moon, who came to power in May, has pledged to engage the North in dialogue as well as bring pressure to impede its nuclear and missile programmes.
The offer comes after the North claimed to have conducted the first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) earlier this month, and said it had mastered the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on the missile. South Korea and the United States, its main ally, dispute the claim.
“Talks and co-operation between the two Koreas to ease tension and bring about peace on the Korean peninsula will be instrumental for pushing forth a mutual, virtuous cycle for inter-Korea relations and North Korea’s nuclear problem,” the South’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, told a news briefing.
The South Korean defence ministry proposed talks with the North on July 21st at Tongilgak – a North Korean building at the Panmunjom truce village on the border used for previous inter-Korea talks – to stop all activities that fuel tension at the military demarcation line.
Mr Cho also urged the restoration of military and government hotlines across the border, which had been cut by the North last year in response to the South imposing economic sanctions after a nuclear test by Pyongyang. In all, the North has conducted five nuclear tests and numerous missile tests.
The South also proposed separate talks by the rival states’ Red Cross organisations to resume a humanitarian project to reunite families separated during the 1950-53 Korean war in closely supervised events held over a few days.
The South Korean Red Cross suggested talks be held on August 1st, with possible reunions over the Korean thanksgiving Chuseok holiday, which falls in October this year.
The last such reunions were held in October 2015 during the government of Moon’s predecessor under a futile push for reconciliation following a sharp increase in tension over border incidents involving a landmine blast and artillery fire.