Two Koreas agree to hold more talks, set up liaison office early

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon (at left) shaking hands with North Korea's chief delegate Ri Son Gwon at the Peace House on South Korea's side of the truce village of Panmunjom. They each led a team of five to the high-level talks y
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon (at left) shaking hands with North Korea's chief delegate Ri Son Gwon at the Peace House on South Korea's side of the truce village of Panmunjom. They each led a team of five to the high-level talks yesterday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In a sign of ties warming up again, the two Koreas have agreed to hold military talks and discuss the issue of family reunions, as well as open a joint liaison office early.

In high-level talks yesterday, both sides "agreed to take practical measures to achieve a full and groundbreaking development of inter-Korea relations and to boldly open a new era of national reconciliation and peace and prosperity", they said in a joint statement.

South Korea's Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon and North Korea's chief delegate Ri Son Gwon, each leading a team of five, met on South Korea's side of the truce village of Panmunjom.

The meeting was meant to discuss how the two Koreas can follow up on the Panmunjom Declaration reached between their two leaders at a historic summit on April 27.

It was, however, delayed for two weeks due to North Korea's abrasive rhetoric - until a surprise second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In last Saturday put derailed ties back on track.

Yesterday, Mr Ri blamed the cancellation on the South and referred to a "grave problem" that resulted in mistrust between the two sides. He did not elaborate, insisting that it is now "a thing of the past".

"Trust and respect" will drive inter-Korea ties in the future, the North Korean added.

Pyongyang was apparently angered by North Korean diplomat-turned-defector Thae Yong Ho calling Mr Kim "impulsive and violent", and reports that said 13 North Korean restaurant workers were tricked by the South's spy agency to defect en masse in 2016.

Mr Cho said: "There is no problem we can't solve together based on trust, respect and understanding of each other. That is the basic mindset that South and North Korea both agree to."

In a bid to ease tension, the two Koreas agreed to set up a joint liaison office in the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex "at an early date", so as to come up with practical measures to "closely negotiate and guarantee sound inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation".

A general-level military meeting has been set for June 14 on North Korea's side of Panmunjom, to be followed by talks on June 18 to discuss sports exchanges, including fielding a joint team at the Asian Games.

Red Cross talks will be held at Mount Kumgang on June 22 to discuss humanitarian issues, including holding a reunion for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

About 10 million North Koreans - about 40 per cent of the population - require humanitarian aid, according to the Red Cross.

Both sides also agreed to further discuss joint projects like the North-South railway, reforestation and a planned performance in the South by North Korea's art troupe.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2018, with the headline 'Two Koreas agree to hold more talks, set up liaison office early'. Print Edition | Subscribe