South Korea agreed on Wednesday to hold talks with North Korea on reuniting families separated by war, as military officers from both sides met at the border for a second straight day to try to end tensions on the peninsula.
The development underscores signs of a thawing in ties between the two Koreas, more than two months after the North’s artillery attack on a front—line South Korean island killed four people.
The November bombardment came just eight months after the sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang that killed 46 sailors, and plunged inter—Korean ties to one of their lowest points in decades. The North flatly denies involvement in the sinking.
After weeks of threatening war, North Korea has recently pushed for a set of talks including one between Red Cross agencies from the two Koreas to discuss the restarting of reunions of families separated by the 1950—53 Korean War. The North also wants the talks to address resuming a suspended joint tourism project and boosting cooperation at an industrial complex - both in North Korea.
On Wednesday, South Korea’s Unification Ministry sent a message to the North agreeing to the talks.
“The government has sufficiently shared the view on the urgency and importance of humanitarian issues, including the reunions of separated families,” ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong—joo told reporters.
It was unclear whether the South had also agreed to discuss the joint tourism project and cooperation at the industrial complex.
Mr. Lee said South Korea proposed discussing a date and venue for the Red Cross talks after the current military talks inside the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone end.
First dialogue since artillery attack
Military officers of the two Koreas met at the border village of Panmunjom on Tuesday in their first dialogue since the artillery attack, which was the North’s first assault on a civilian area since the Korean War.
The sides differed over logistics for higher—level defence talks they are pushing to hold to discuss how to ease tension on the peninsula. They resumed their meeting on Wednesday at the same site.
“The atmosphere of yesterday’s talks was good and we are doing our best,” Col. Moon Sang—kyun, the chief South Korean delegate, told South Korean journalists on Wednesday, ahead of his departure to the border, according to Yonhap news agency.
If officers are able to agree on a meeting of defence chiefs, it would be the first such high—level defence talks between the Koreas in more than three years.
Details of Wednesday’s meeting were not immediately available and no independent journalists were allowed to cover the talks.
The military talks were arranged amid international calls for the resumption of inter—Korean dialogue. In January, President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, issued a joint statement emphasizing the importance of an improvement in inter—Korean relations and agreeing that sincere and constructive inter—Korean dialogue is an essential step.
Kim Yong—hyun, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said the South’s government has accepted international calls to halt any further deterioration in ties.
“South—North Korean relations won’t be extreme again like last year,” Mr. Kim said.
The two Koreas technically remain in a state of war because the Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The U.S. stations about 28,500 troops in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.