North, South Korea Plan Further Talks after Standoff

By Reuters 27 November 2015

SEOUL — North and South Korea agreed to hold talks at the vice-minister level next month, after a meeting on Thursday aimed at further easing tensions following the end to an armed standoff in August.

The meeting of officials at the border truce village of Panmunjom 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.

Officials agreed to vice-minister-level talks on Dec. 11 at the industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong just a few kilometres on the northern side of the border run jointly by the two Koreas, a joint press statement said.

The talks are 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. Pyongyang denies any role.

The North also bombed a South Korean island later that year, blaming Seoul for provoking it by firing into its territorial waters during a military exercise.

“The agenda will be issues that will improve relations between the South and the North,” the statement issued after the talks said.

As part of the August agreement, the two sides held reunions last month of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean war. North and South Korea are technically still at war because the conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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

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