Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Koreas hold 'truce village' talks

Chun Hae-sung, centre, the head of South Korea's working-level delegation, leaves for Panmunjom (AP/Lee Jin-man)

North and South Korea have begun preparatory talks at a "truce village" on their heavily-armed border aimed at setting ground rules for a higher-level discussion on easing animosity and restoring stalled rapprochement projects.

The meeting at Panmunjom, where the truce ending the 1950-53 Korean War was signed, is the first of its kind on the Korean Peninsula in more than two years.

Success will be judged on whether the government delegates can pave the way for a summit between the ministers of each country's department for cross-border affairs, which South Korea has proposed for Wednesday in Seoul. Such ministerial talks have not happened since 2007.

The intense media interest in what is essentially a meeting of bureaucrats to iron out technical details is an indication of how bad ties between the Koreas have been.

Any dialogue is an improvement on the belligerence that has marked the relationship over recent years, which have seen North Korean nuclear tests and long-range rocket launches, attacks in 2010 blamed on the North that killed 50 South Koreans, and a steady stream in recent months of invective and threats from Pyongyang and counter-vows from Seoul.

"Today's working-level talks will be a chance to take care of administrative and technical issues in order to successfully host the ministers' talks," one of the South Korean delegates, unification policy officer Chun Hae-sung, said in Seoul before the group's departure for Panmunjom.

The southern delegation will keep in mind, he said, "that the development of South and North Korean relations starts from little things and gradual trust-building".

During the morning talks, the delegates discussed the agenda for the ministerial meeting, location, date, the number of participants and how long they will stay in Seoul, if the meeting is held there, the Unification Ministry, which is responsible for North Korea issues, said.

Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said there were no major disputes and the talks would continue.

Analysts express wariness about North Korea's intentions, with some seeing the interest in dialogue as part of a pattern where Pyongyang follows aggressive rhetoric and provocations with diplomatic efforts to trade an easing of tension for outside concessions.

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