North Korea to open Red Cross hotline with South Korea

Pyongyang also invites officials from Seoul to talks over the weekend

South Korean military vehicles yesterday  on the Grand Unification Bridge 
leading to 
 North Korea, south of the demilitarized zone
 separating  North from South Korea. Photograph: Reuters

South Korean military vehicles yesterday on the Grand Unification Bridge leading to North Korea, south of the demilitarized zone separating North from South Korea. Photograph: Reuters

 


In a further sign of easing tensions on the Korean peninsula, North Korea said it would reopen a Red Cross hotline with South Korea and invited officials from Seoul to talks over the weekend.

North Korea stopped responding to calls on the Red Cross hotline in March. Another hotline, used by military officials to communicate with the UN Command at Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone dividing the two Koreas, remains shut.

On Thursday, North Korea proposed talks to normalise commercial projects, including the joint industrial zone in the border city of Kaesong that it shut down at the height of tensions in early April.

“We appreciate the fact that the South side promptly and positively responded to the proposal made by us for holding talks between the authorities of both sides,” the North’s official KCNA news agency quoted a spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea as saying.

Pyongyang staged its latest nuclear test in February, earning fresh sanctions from the United Nations, and since then it has threatened to attack South Korea and the United States.

The international community condemned North Korea for its recent threats. China, the North’s major diplomatic ally, was also critical.


Joint exercises
However, since joint military exercises with South Korea and the US ended in April, there has been no sign of the North re-escalating tensions.

The two Koreas have not held talks since February 2011.

Pyongyang invited South Korea to a working-level meeting on Sunday in Kaesong, where South Korean companies employed 53,000 North Korean workers to make cheap household goods in 120 factories until Pyongyang ordered it closed in April.

South Korea has proposed cabinet level talks on June 12th in Seoul to discuss a range of issues including commercial projects and families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.

“We are making a counterproposal and asking the North to hold inter-Korean ministerial-level talks on June 12th in Seoul in order to resolve issues regarding the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, the Mount Geumgang resort and separated families,” South Korea’s unification minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told a news conference.

“We positively view the North’s acceptance today of what our government has consistently proposed,” the minister said.

Chinese president Xi Jinping was due to meet President Barack Obama for a summit on Friday in California, and North Korea is expected to figure high on the agenda.


Asian Games
Meanwhile, the mayor of the South Korean city of Incheon said he was confident of North Korea’s participation in the Asian Games to be held in the western port city next year.

“I’m 100 per cent sure of North Korea’s participation. We’ve been talking with the North using all the routes and channels we have,” Song Young-gil said in an interview with the Korea Times.

In addition, the young North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, recently dispatched his special envoy Choe Ryong-hae to China, where he reportedly said the North was interested in rejoining long-stalled six-party talks involving both Koreas, China, Russia, the US and Japan.