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(3rd LD) Koreas reopen severed cross-border hotlines

North Korea 15:37 July 27, 2021

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more developments in paras 5-8; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, July 27 (Yonhap) -- The two Koreas on Tuesday reopened direct cross-border communication lines that Pyongyang severed last year in protest of propaganda leaflets coming in from the South, the government said, a positive sign for an improvement in the inter-Korean relationship.

Park Soo-hyun, senior Cheong Wa Dae secretary for public communication, announced that Seoul and Pyongyang decided to resume communications via their direct hotlines at 10 a.m.

The resumption of inter-Korean communications was a result of an agreement between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Cheong Wa Dae explained.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency also confirmed the restoration, saying that the two leaders agreed to reopen "cutoff inter-Korean communication liaison lines through the recent several exchanges of personal letters."

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un shake hands on April 27, 2018, in this file photo, as they meet at the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom for a summit. (Yonhap)

Seoul's unification ministry later said it made communications with the North through the Panmunjom channel at 10 a.m., while communication through the inter-Korean liaison office took place later at 11:04 a.m. due to technical reasons and lasted for three minutes.

The two sides will begin resuming their regular phone calls twice a day, the ministry said.

The South Korean defense ministry also said that the two Koreas' military authorities restored their communication lines at 10 a.m.

"Phone calls and faxing to exchange documents now operate normally," the ministry said.

This file photo shows a South Korean official making a test call with North Korea on Jan. 1, 2018, via a hotline set up at an inter-Korean liaison office in the truce village of Panmunjom. (Yonhap)

Moon and Kim have exchanged personal letters on multiple occasions since April for the resumption and shared views on issues of advancing inter-Korean reconciliation, Park said.

"The two leaders of the South and the North also shared an understanding to recover mutual trust and again push the countries' relationship forward," he added without disclosing details of the letters.

The move came 13 months after North Korea cut off all communication lines with South Korea in protest over Seoul's supposed failure to stop activists from sending anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets into the communist nation.

Park Soo-hyun, senior secretary to President Moon Jae-in for public communication, speaks during a press conference at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on July 27, 2021, in this photo released by the presidential office. Park said the two Koreas reopened direct cross-border communications the same day, 13 months after Pyongyang unilaterally severed them in protest of anti-Pyongyang propaganda activities in the South. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The reopening of communications could potentially lead to a breakthrough in resumption of high-level dialogue, including an additional Moon-Kim summit, between the two Koreas, which has remained frozen since June last year, when Pyongyang blew up a liaison office in its border town of Kaesong and severed all cross-border communications.

Moon and Kim had their first meeting in Panmunjom, the truce village inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which bisects the peninsula, in April 2018.

They had two more summits that year, producing follow-up deals on reducing military tensions and building mutual trust. The North's leader expressed his commitment to the complete denuclearization of Korea.

"We anticipate that the restoration of communications between the South and the North will positively affect the advancement and development of inter-Korean relations," Park added.

It could also provide an impetus to kick-start the Moon administration's currently stalled Korean peace process. Seoul has been engaging in active diplomacy aimed at reaching out to the North and also arranging dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington especially after the inauguration of the new U.S. administration under President Joe Biden.

In a bilateral summit in May in Washington, Moon and Biden agreed to embrace past agreements reached between the two Koreas and between the United States and the North in a sign of commitment to dialogue with Pyongyang.

North Korea has stayed away from talks with the U.S. since Kim's summit with former U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February 2019 ended without a deal.

This file photo shows South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shaking hands before their summit talks at the headquarters of the North's Workers' Party Central Committee in Pyongyang on Sept. 18, 2018. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

odissy@yna.co.kr
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