Higher-level South-North talks kick off

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Higher-level South-North talks kick off

KAESONG - South and North Korea held high-level talks in the border city of Kaesong on Friday, their latest attempt to improve ties following agreements reached over the summer.

The vice-ministerial talks, which began at 10:40 a.m. Friday at the Kaesong joint industrial complex, were still ongoing as of press time. Given past instances of inter-Korean talks during the Park Geun-hye government - in August, one took over 40 hours to reach an agreement - it was expected the Friday talks could also extend into the weekend.

Expectations for an outcome rose as this was the first time in eight years that the two Koreas sent senior government officials to discuss a wide range of inter-Korean issues, a discernible thaw in relations that have been frozen for years.

Seoul’s three-member delegation was led by Unification Vice Minister Hwang Boo-gi, while the North Korea delegation of three was led by Jon Jong-su, vice director of the secretariat of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.

Reflecting on the significance of the Friday talks, the North’s chief negotiator remarked at the beginning that he hoped their meeting “could pave a major way for the two Koreas to march on by getting rid of a big wall of mistrust and confrontation,” which he said had been “hardened” by a lack of communication between the two sides.

Hwang Boo-gi replied by saying that he also “hoped to resolve many issues in this gridlock step by step.

“Let’s make the first step in the right direction so we can open the way forward for reunification,” Hwang said.

The last time the two Koreas had such a meeting to discuss a wide range of issues was in 2007, when the two sent ministerial-level officials to face off at the negotiating table.

The Friday talks were arranged as part of efforts to follow through on an Aug. 25 agreement in which the two sides agreed to hold high-level talks to improve ties. The Aug. 25 agreement also ended an escalation of tensions on the peninsula. The tensions were sparked by a land mine blast inside the demilitarized zone that maimed two South Korean soldiers.

Under the agreements, the two sides held a 20th round of reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War from Oct. 20-26 at the Mount Kumgang resort. Relatives from around 100 families from each side reunited with their loved ones for the first time in over 60 years. It was the first such reunion in over a year.

During the meeting, Seoul was likely to have demanded Pyongyang agree to reunions on a regular basis. Since over 80 percent of 66,000 surviving members of separated families are in their 80s and older, the South wants the reunions made more regular.

The North was expected to have called on the South to resume tours to Mount Kumgang that were suspended since July 2008, when a South Korean female tourist was fatally shot.

BY KANG JIN-KYU, JOINT PRESS CORPS [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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