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Koreas set for military talks on easing border tension

All News 10:10 January 10, 2018

By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Jan. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea began preparations Wednesday for what would be the first military talks with North Korea in more than three years.

The move is a follow-up to a deal at their high-level talks a day earlier on the North's participation in the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

But it remains uncertain whether the two sides will produce a meaningful agreement on reducing border tensions heightened by the Kim Jong-un regime's provocations and yearslong lack of bilateral dialogue.

The South's defense ministry is expected to propose a date and venue for the agreed-upon meeting via the restored inter-Korean military hotline later this week or next week.

South Korea's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon (L) shaking hands with his North Korean counterpart Ri Son-gwon at their Panmunjom talks on Jan. 9, 2018, in this photo taken by the Joint Press Corps. (Yonhap)

The North informed the South on Tuesday that it has reconnected the military communication channel in the "western district," which Pyongyang severed in early 2016 in protest against Seoul's decision to shut down the joint industrial complex in Kaesong.

The two Koreas had their last military talks in October 2014 at the truce village of Panmunjom, with South Korea represented by then-Deputy Defense Minister for National Defense Policy Ryu Je-seung. His northern counterpart was Kim Yong-chol, a four-star general who commands the Reconnaissance General Bureau.

The level of chief delegates in the new round of talks is up to consultations amid a view that they are likely to start with working-level negotiations focused on procedures and other details related to the communist neighbor's plan to send athletes, a taekwondo performance team, a cheering squad and reporters to PyeongChang.

The South's eastern town is located some 80 kilometers south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

"As North Korea's delegation will likely visit South Korea through the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), the subject of primary discussions is (border) passage procedures and safety guarantee measures," a government official said.

No big trouble is expected in striking an agreement on the topic, given the North's desire to join the Olympic Games to open on Feb. 9 for a two-week run, he added.

A convoy of South Korean buses carrying separated families heads to Mount Kumgang in North Korea in this undated file photo. (Yonhap)

The South is also expected to raise the issue of easing tensions along the heavily fortified border.

The liberal Moon Jae-in administration has stated its aim of halting "all acts of hostility" near the MDL, including loudspeaker-using propaganda campaigns.

North Korean officials are apparently sensitive to the cross-border broadcasts and spread of leaflets critical of their regime.

"The issue can be addressed in principle at working-level military talks, if held. But South and North Korea would need to have general-grade talks to touch on the matter in detail," another government official said.

A potential deal breaker is the North's longstanding call for the halt to the regular joint defense drills between South Korea and the United States.

The two sides have decided to hold this year's Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises after the Olympic and Paralympic Games end in mid-March in a bid not to antagonize the North.


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