North and South Korea restore cross-border hotline: Seoul

A photo from Sept 16, 2020, shows the inter-Korean hotline during South Korean Unification Minister Lee In-young's (right) visit to the DMZ. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - North and South Korea have restored their cross-border communication, Seoul said Monday (Oct 4), with officials exchanging their first phone call since August.

The restoration comes just days after Pyongyang sparked international concern with a series of missile tests in the span of a few weeks, prompting the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting.

The two Koreas had signalled a surprise thaw in relations in late July by announcing the restoration of cross-border communications, which were severed more than a year earlier.

But the detente was short-lived with North Korea stopped answering calls just two weeks later.

Seoul's unification ministry confirmed that officials from the two Koreas exchanged their first phone call since August on Monday morning.

"With the restoration of the South-North communication line, the government evaluates that a foundation for recovering inter-Korean relations has been provided," the ministry said in a statement.

"The government hopes... to swiftly resume dialogue and begin practical discussions for recovering inter-Korean relations," it added.

Earlier Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "expressed the intention of restoring the cut-off north-south communication lines," KCNA said, reporting the move was an attempt to establish "lasting peace" on the Korean peninsula.

But an analyst played down Monday's restoration as a "symbolic" gesture, noting the North's recent missile launches.

"Even if this leads to talks, we may enter a new phase where North Korea engages in dialogue but continues to carry out provocations simultaneously," said Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University.

North Korea had unilaterally cut off all official military and political communication links in June last year over activists sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

The two sides said on July 27 this year that all lines were restored.

Their joint announcement, which coincided with the anniversary of the end of the Korean War, was the first positive development since a series of summits between Kim and the South's President Moon Jae-in in 2018 failed to achieve any significant breakthrough.

They also revealed at the time that Kim and Moon had exchanged a series of letters since April in which they agreed that re-establishing hotlines would be a productive first step in rebooting relations between the two rivals which, despite the end of their 1950-53 conflict, remain technically at war.

But the cross-border communication lasted for just two weeks, with the North dropping them in protest at joint US-South Korea military drills.

In the period since, Pyongyang has held a series of tension-raising missile tests.

In September, it launched what it said was a long-range cruise missile, and earlier this week it tested what it described as a hypersonic gliding vehicle, which South Korea's military said appeared to be in the early stages of development.

On Friday, it said it had successfully fired a new anti-aircraft missile.

Pyongyang slammed the UN Security Council Sunday for holding an emergency meeting over the missile tests, accusing member states of toying with a "time-bomb".

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