(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more details)
SEOUL, June 11 (Yonhap) -- High-level inter-Korean talks, scheduled to be held in Seoul within 24 hours, have been called off due to disagreement over the level of their respective chief delegates, the government said Tuesday.
The government-to-government talks, the first of their kind in six years, were due to be held Wednesday amid high expectations that the dialogue could lead to easing tensions on the volatile Korean Peninsula.
The disagreement surfaced after the two Koreas exchanged the lists of their five-member delegates at the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone that separates the rival states.
According to South Korean officials, North Korea immediately complained about what they believed was the low level of the chief South Korean negotiator and later called off the meeting.
"The North threatened to call off the meeting unless the South sends a minister-official as its chief delegate," Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk told a news conference.
South Korea originally had proposed sending its unification minister, Ryoo Kihl-jae, as its chief delegate on the condition that the North would send a corresponding level of official who it said should be Kim Yang-gon, head of the United Front Department in the ruling Workers' Party.
The list of North Korean delegates, as received by South Korea, stated its chief delegates would be Kang Ji-yong, a director at the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK), the North's arm for dealing with cross-border affairs with Seoul.
South Korea proposed Vice Unification Minister Kim Nam-shik as its chief negotiator. South Korean officials said the proposed North Korean chief delegate is a level or two lower than its Cabinet member.
While it appears minor, the dispute underlines the big gulf that divides the two Korean states in a state of conflict after failing to sign a peace treaty at the end of the 1950-53 Koean War.
The high-level talks, if held, were to have discussed a variety of pending issues, including reopening a suspended inter-Korean joint industrial complex and resuming cross-border sightseeing tours and reunions of separates families on both sides.
North Korea's nuclear weapons program was not officially listed as an agenda item but South Korean officials indicated that they would raised the issue during the Seoul talks.
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