North, South Korean officials hold key talks in ′truce village′ | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 09.06.2013
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North, South Korean officials hold key talks in 'truce village'

Delegates from North and South Korea have met in the border village of Panmunjom in the first meeting of its kind in more than two years. It comes ahead of ministerial-level talks designed to end military tensions.

Visitors look through binoculars toward North Korea at a South Korean observation post in the border city of Paju near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas on June 6, 2013. North and South Korea agreed in principle on June 6 to hold their first official talks for years, signalling a possible breakthrough in cross-border ties after months of escalated military tensions. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

Symbolbild Nordkorea Südkorea Gespräche Annäherung

Government officials began the preparatory talks at around 10 a.m. local time (0100 UTC) on Sunday at the so-called "truce village" along the heavily armed border.

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As the location where the truce ending the 1950-53 war was signed, Panmunjom was agreed upon to host the neighbors' first talks since February 2011.

The success of the low-level meeting will be determined on whether the delegates are able to pave the way for the higher-level talks in South Korea's capital on Wednesday. Ministerial delegates from North and South Korea have not held official talks since 2007.

"Today's working-level talks will be a chance to take care of administrative and technical issues in order to successfully host the ministers' talks," one of the South Korean delegates, Unification Policy Officer Chun Hae-sung, said in Seoul before the group's departure for Panmunjom.

North Korea agreed to open dialogue on Thursday in a significant change in stance following repeated refusals to come to the negotiating table. South Korea agreed to the offer, suggesting the ministerial meeting in Seoul. North Korea then responded calling for initial lower-level talks.

The significance given to Sunday's talks reflects the growing tension between Seoul and Pyongyang in recent months. Troubles escalated earlier this year when the international community levied further sanctions on North Korea following its latest nuclear test. In retaliation, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un threatened to launch missile and nuclear strikes against South Korea and the United States.

The North's threats coincided with annual South Korea-US military drills, which Kim said amounted to provocation, demanding they come to an end. When South Korean President Park Geun-Hye refused to acquiesce to Kim's demands, North Korea withdrew 53,000 workers from the joint industrial zone Kaesong. It also severed the official telephone line to Seoul.

Thursday's invitation came little over a week after Pyongyang allowed South Koreans to return to the industrial complex.

ccp/mz (AFP, Reuters)

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