Hotline restored; talks proposed by Pyongyang

Updated: 2011-01-13 07:53

(China Daily)

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BEIJING - The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK) restored the Red Cross hotline at their joint truce village on Wednesday and talks on bilateral economic cooperation were formally proposed by the DPRK.

The restoring of the cross-border hotline, which is used for exchanging messages on humanitarian issues such as the reunions of separated families, marked the first direct communication between the two countries since an exchange of artillery fire near a disputed maritime border area in November.

The hotline conversation lasted about 10 minutes, according to a source from the ROK Unification Ministry.

Shortly after the line was restored, the ROK sent a message saying that "the communication channel should never be unilaterally cut off like this", unification ministry officials said.

The DPRK cut off the Red Cross communication line at the border village of Panmunjom when tensions spiked over the sinking of the ROK's warship Cheonan in March 2010, which was blamed on Pyongyang. The DPRK has denied involvement in the ship's sinking, which killed 46 ROK sailors.

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The restoration offers a good chance for the two nations to ease tensions, said Huang Youfu, the director of the Institute of Korean Studies at Minzu University of China.

The DPRK proposed the two sides meet on Feb 11 to discuss the resumption of cross-border tours and on Feb 9 to facilitate their cooperation involving a joint factory complex in the DPRK's Kaesong, the Unification Ministry said in a news release.

Seoul has so far rebuffed the dialogue offer as a ploy for aid, saying the DPRK must demonstrate responsibility for the attacks and take steps toward nuclear disarmament before talks can be held.

"Our stance remains unchanged," said Lee Jong-joo, a spokeswoman for ROK's Unification Ministry.

Later on Wednesday, the DPRK sent messages expressing regret over the ROK's decision not to send officials to Kaesong.

Meanwhile, China's Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai urged an early resumption of the Six-Party Talks on Wednesday.

Since the DPRK has been offering olive branches, now the ball is in the ROK's court, said Huang.

It has been reported that ROK Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin met with his Japanese counterpart Toshimi Kitazawa on Monday in Seoul to seek "future-oriented" bilateral military relations and started discussing two pacts designed to facilitate their ties.

The DPRK's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea on Wednesday called Seoul's strengthening military cooperation with Japan a "direct challenge" to Pyongyang.

According to an article published on the committee's website, Japan - the "long-time enemy" of the DPRK - tried to prepare another aggressive move against the DPRK.

Moreover, the article said the ROK's increased military cooperation with Japan is like helping "a tyrant to do evil".

China Daily-Xinhua-AP-AFP


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