Two Koreas agree to hold high-level dialogue in Dec

SEOUL • The two Koreas have agreed to hold a rare high-level dialogue next month, in line with an accord struck in August aimed at easing cross-border tensions.

A Unification Ministry official in Seoul said the two sides will meet at the deputy minister level on Dec 11 in the Kaesong joint industrial zone, just inside North Korea.

Agreement on the dialogue was reached at working-level talks held on Thursday in the border truce village of Panmunjom. These talks came after the two sides signed an agreement in which Pyongyang expressed regret over landmine blasts near the border that wounded two South Korean soldiers.

Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon Hee told reporters that North Korea had at first demanded a set agenda for the Kaesong meeting, but later agreed to Seoul's proposal for a "comprehensive discussion of pending issues related to improving ties".

Next month's meeting is a fresh attempt at dialogue between the rivals, which have all but cut off ties since 2010, when a South Korean navy ship was destroyed by a torpedo that Seoul said was fired from a North Korean submarine.

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

If the dialogue makes progress, the North is expected to seek the resumption of cross-border tours from the South to its Mount Kumgang resort - a lucrative source of cash for the impoverished state - that were suspended in 2008.

Seoul in turn is expected to try to get Pyongyang to agree to hold family reunions regularly, a top priority for the South, where there are more than 60,000 elderly people looking for relatives in the North.

But reconciliation appears fragile. Yesterday, a North Korean spokesman lashed out at South Korea's Yonhap News Agency for saying North Korea is pursuing a policy of "horror and dictatorship".

"This is not only an intolerable insult to the dignity of (North Korea's) supreme leadership but also a grave politically motivated provocation aimed at plunging inter-Korean relations into catastrophe," said the statement released by North Korean news agency KNCA.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline 'Two Koreas agree to hold high-level dialogue in Dec'. Print Edition | Subscribe