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Korean officials meet to pave way for high-level dialogue

Officials from North and South Korea sat down for talks in the border truce village of Panmunjom. They have agreed on a commitment to resume high-level talks in the near future.

The meeting began shortly before 1:00 p.m. (04:00 UTC) and marked the first inter-governmental interaction since August when the two sides

met to defuse tensions

that had threatened to trigger a military crisis.

During the summer, Seoul blamed landmine blasts that killed South Korean soldiers on the North, which denied any responsibility. The situation heightened unease at the world's most heavily fortified border as both sides threatened each other.

Thursday's meeting ended with an agreement to commit to resuming top-level negotiations, albeit without a clear timeline. The Koreas said in late August they would hold the high-level talks either in Seoul or Pyongyang in the near future.

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Heartbreaking reunions in North Korea (October 2015)

Although Thursday's talks offer some hope of reconciliation, observers remain skeptical. In June 2013, a similar agreement was reached, only for Pyongyang to pull out at the last minute.

Likely topics for the agenda include South Korea's desire for regular reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War that cemented the division of Korea. North Korea, for its part, is keen to see the resumption of South Korean tour groups to its scenic Mount Kumgang resort.

The tours are a source of badly needed hard currency for the cash-strapped North. In 2008, they were suspended by the South after a tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard.

ng/kms (AFP, AP)

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