South Korea proposes military talks, family reunions with North Korea on July 21

Korean People's Army (KPA) soldiers stand guard before the military demarcation line separating North and South Korea at the Joint Security Area (JSA) near Kaesong.
Korean People's Army (KPA) soldiers stand guard before the military demarcation line separating North and South Korea at the Joint Security Area (JSA) near Kaesong. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea proposed military talks with North Korea, the first since 21015, and a halt to hostile activities near the inter-Korean border, the South's vice defence minister said on Monday (July 17), after a series of missile tests by the North in recent weeks.

"We request military talks with the North on July 21 at Tongilgak to stop all hostile activities that raise military tension at the military demarcation line," Vice-Defence Minister Suh Choo Suk told a media briefing.

Tongilgak is a North Korean building at Panmunjom used for previous talks. The last government-level talks were held in December 2015.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon told a news briefing: “Talks and cooperation between the two Koreas to ease tension and bring about peace on the Korean peninsula will be instrumental for pushing forth a mutual, virtuous cycle for inter-Korea relations and North Korea’s nuclear problem." 

China, which has close ties to Pyongyang despite Beijing’s anger over North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, welcomed the proposal, saying cooperation and reconciliation between the two Koreas was good for everyone and could help ease tensions.

“We hope that North and South Korea can work hard to go in a positive direction and create conditions to break the deadlock and resume dialogue and consultation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a daily news briefing.

 

On July 4, North Korea raised the stakes when it test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time that places Alaska within its crosshairs. This came following a string of missile tests and two nuclear tests since the start of last year (2016).

The proposal for inter-Korean military talks came roughly a week after President Moon Jae In said the need for dialogue with North Korea was more pressing than ever to curb Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes. 

North Korea experts say the North is likely to agree to reopen military talks, reported Yonhap.

"Kim Jong Un directly mentioned (the need for) inter-Korean military talks in the 7th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea held last year, the first of its kind in 36 years," said Professor Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. "There will be a response from North Korea."

The South Korean government also made a separate proposal on reopening Red Cross talks to discuss ways to resume family reunions on the occasion of the Chuseok holiday which falls in early October this year, reported Yonhap news agency.

The South Korean Red Cross on Monday proposed talks with the North to discuss reunions of family members separated during the Korean War.

It suggested talks be held on Aug 1, with possible reunions over the Chuseok holiday, which falls in October this year.  

Unveiling his peace vision in the German capital earlier this month, President Moon stressed the importance of dialogue to address the current situation, which he described as "highly dangerous".

He said his government will strive to establish a permanent peace regime on the peninsula on top of continued denuclearisation efforts.

South Korea's new defence chief Song Young Moo, formerly a Navy chief, on Monday stressed the importance of a strong military power to support peace efforts.

"The current security situation on the Korean Peninsula is serious enough to be called 'the worst security crisis' since the (1950-53) Korean War," he told Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) service members.

He called for a sweeping reform of the country's armed forces for a "new war paradigm", reported Yonhap news agency.

On July 27, the two Koreas will mark the 64th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement which ended the 1950-1953 Korean War in a truce.  Both sides remain technically at war because no peace treaty has ever been signed. 

Moon has suggested hostile military activities be halted at the inter-Korean border on July 27.  

Pyongyang has repeatedly said it refuses to engage in all talks with the South unless Seoul turns over 12 waitresses who defected to the South last year. North Korea says the South abducted the 12 waitresses and the restaurant manager and has demanded their return, but the South has said the group decided to defect of its own free will.  

The North has conducted two nuclear tests since the beginning of last year and missile-related activities at an unprecedented pace.  It conducted the first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile earlier this month, claiming to have mastered the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on the missile. South Korea and the United States dispute the claim.  

In an act to rein in the North, the United States is preparing new sanctions on Chinese banks and firms doing business with Pyongyang possibly within weeks, two senior US officials said last week.