South Korea has sent a proposal to North Korea for talks on easing military tensions and the reunion of separated families, Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) and the Red Cross said on Monday.
Talks, Seoul hopes, will take place on July 21 and August 1 respectively.
The move is, reportedly, part of “follow-up” measures to those proposed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in in his “Berlin Doctrine” speech earlier in the month, in which he called for Pyongyang to halt “acts of hostility around the Military Demarcation Line (MDL)” between the two Koreas.
“The Ministry of National Defense (MND) propose to North Korea to hold the military talks between the South and North Korean authorities on July 21 at Tongilgak on the North Korean side of Panmunjom… as follow up measures to the suggestions,” South Korean Vice Minister of National Defense Suh Choo-suk told assembled media during a special news briefing.
Suh said the talks would aim to “stop all acts of hostility that heighten military tensions on the Military Demarcation Line (MDL).”
“[The South Korean government] hopes North Korea will reply to our proposal by restoring the [inter-Korean] military communication line in the region of the West Sea which is currently severed,” Suh said. “[The government] is looking forward to a positive response from the North Korean side.”
Pyongyang cut off military communication in the Yellow Sea (known as West Sea in Korea) in February last year, in response to the South Korean government’s unilateral decision to shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) that month.
But the vice minister declined to specify which acts of hostility were being referred to, but said that Seoul and Pyongyang would discuss the issues “in a comprehensive manner.”
The Korean Red Cross on Monday also proposed talks with North Korea on arranging inter-Korean meetings of families separated by the Korean War.
Moon said in his Berlin speech that he hoped to hold family reunions and visits to ancestral graves in the North on October 4, to mark the 10th anniversary of the October 4 Declaration and Chuseok, a national holiday in both Koreas.
“Concerning this, the Korean Red Cross proposes to hold an inter-Korean Red Cross talks on August 1 at the Peace House in Panmunjom to resolve the humanitarian issues such as holding a family reunion events on the occasion of Chuseok,” Acting President of the Korean Red Cross Kim Sun-hyang told media at a news conference.
The Korean Red Cross plans to dispatch three representatives to the DPRK, with secretary general Kim Gunn-joong leading the delegation.
“[We] hope the DPRK Red Cross Society will respond to our suggestion through the liaison office of the South and North Korean Red Cross in Panmunjom,” Kim said.
The most recent reunion of divided families was held in October 2015, and it remains unclear whether the inter-Korean meeting will take place. Pyongyang has maintained that family reunions – as well as further humanitarian cooperation – will not take place until the South returns 13 “abducted” defectors to the North.
North Korea has said that the 12 female workers involved in a mass-defection to South Korea in April last year and Kim Ryon Hui – who has said she wishes to return to her homeland after, she claims, mistakenly defecting in 2011 – must be returned to the North.
South Korean Minister of Unification Cho Myong-gyon said on Monday the suspension of hostile acts and the reunion of the separated families are “the most urgent issues to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and to achieve the inter-Korean cooperation.”
“The reunion of separated families should take precedence over any political considerations,” Cho told assembled media.
“If South and North Korea sit face-to-face, we will be able to have a heart-to-heart discussion over mutual interests.”
Cho said the South was proposing the talks due to the “urgency of the issue” rather than the possibility of a positive response from Pyongyang, adding that the South’s “initiative is needed to restore inter-Korean talks.”
“We should keep on watching North Korea’s response in the future, but we will persistently endeavor to make these proposals realized without fluctuating between joy and grief according to [the North’s] response,” Cho told media.
But the unification minister said the conditions for inter-Korean talks between the South and North Korean governments led by the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) “haven’t been satisfied.”
“Full-fledged inter-Korean dialogue will be reviewed while watching the changes in the North’s attitudes toward the issues including denuclearization and changes in the situations.”
North Korean ruling party newspaper the Rodong Sinmun published an extended editorial dismissing recent overtures by Seoul as “sophistry.”
“The overall content, enumerated under the name of peace, carries confrontational intentions to quash its neighbor while relying on foreign forces,” Rodong said, calling for a “fundamental shift in policy and stance” by the South Korean government.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: South Korean government
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