North Korea, South Korea to hold talks on easing tensions on Nov 26

South Korean soldiers patrolling the barbed-wire fence of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea, in Hwacheon on Aug 26, 2015.
South Korean soldiers patrolling the barbed-wire fence of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea, in Hwacheon on Aug 26, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has proposed talks with South Korea to be held on Nov 26 at the truce village on their militarised border, the North's KCNA news agency reported on Friday (Nov 20).

South Korea accepted the North's proposal on Friday, Yonhap news agency said.

The talks would be the first government-level meeting focused on easing tension since the two sides agreed to improve ties following an armed stand-off in August.

The North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, its main agency handling inter-Korean ties, proposed to hold working-level contact for government talks, KCNA said.

An official at South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles ties with the North, confirmed receiving Pyongyang's proposal and said it would soon make a decision on whether to accept it, possibly later on Friday.

The South has proposed to hold government talks on several occasions following the agreement on Aug 25, which ended a standoff that involved an exchange of artillery fire amid an escalation of tension following landmine blasts at the border.

The North expressed regret over the landmine incident that wounded South Korean soldiers, which Seoul blamed on Pyongyang. The South said the North's expression of regret was in effect an apology, although Pyongyang subsequently denied it.

"Now we're back on again, the game's afoot," Mr John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul, said, adding the proposal for working-level talks would ease the way for the two sides to get on with discussions.

"Sometimes these talks break down before they even start over what level to send, so this sounds like a very pragmatic and straightforward approach," he added.

As part of the August agreement, the two sides held reunions last month of families separated during the 1950-1953 Korean war. North and South Korea are technically still at war because the conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Relations between the neighbours have been all but frozen since the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship, which killed 46 sailors, in an incident Seoul blames on the North. Pyongyang denies any role.

Later that year, the North bombed an island of the South, killing four people.

The South introduced sanctions that year that halted almost all commercial exchanges between the two sides and rolled back most of the joint projects set up since 2000 aimed at advancing ties.