World

South Korea seeks talks with North Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae In proposes rare military talks with Pyongyang to ease tension

SEOUL South Korea yesterday proposed military talks with North Korea, the first formal overture to Pyongyang by the government of President Moon Jae In, and said the two sides should discuss ways to avoid hostile acts near the heavily militarised border.

There was no immediate response from the North.

The two sides technically remain at war but Mr Moon, who came to power in May, has pledged to engage the North in dialogue and bring pressure to impede its nuclear and missile programmes.

The offer comes after the North claimed to have conducted the first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) earlier this month, and said it had mastered the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on the missile. South Korea and its main ally, the United States, dispute the claim.

"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," the South's Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon told a news briefing .

HALT

The South Korean Defence Ministry proposed that the talks be held on July 21 to stop all activities that fuel tension at the military demarcation line.

Mr Cho also urged the restoration of military and government hotlines across the border, which were cut by the North last year in response to the South imposing economic sanctions after a nuclear test by Pyongyang.

The South also proposed separate talks by the states' Red Cross organisations to resume a humanitarian project to reunite families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War in supervised events.

The South Korean Red Cross suggested talks be held on Aug 1, with possible reunions over the Korean thanksgiving Chuseok holiday in October.

The proposals come after Mr Moon said at the G-20 summit in Hamburg earlier this month that he was in favour of dialogue with the North despite its "nuclear provocation".

South Korea did not elaborate on the meaning of hostile military activities, which varies between the two Koreas. South Korea usually refers to loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts by both sides, while the North wants a halt to routine joint US-South Korea military drills.

When asked if South Korea was willing to "be flexible" on military drills with the US should North Korea be open to talks, Mr Cho said the government had not discussed the matter specifically.

Pyongyang has repeatedly said it refuses to engage in all talks with the South unless Seoul turns over 13 workers who defected to the South last year after leaving a restaurant run by the North in China.

North Korea said 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. - REUTERS

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