UPDATE 2-North and South Korea set for talks on easing tension – Reuters


* North proposes talks with South at truce village

* South accepts, talks set for Nov. 26

* “The game’s afoot,” says North Korea expert in Seoul

(Updates with the South accepting proposal)

By Jack Kim and James Pearson

SEOUL, Nov 20 North and South Korea agreed on
Friday to hold talks on Nov. 26, setting the stage for the first
government-level meeting focused on easing tension since the two
pledged to improve ties following an armed standoff in August.

The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of
Korea, its main agency handling inter-Korean ties, proposed to
hold working-level contact for government talks, at a truce
village on their militarised border.

The South’s Unification Ministry, which handles ties with
Pyongyang, said it had accepted the proposal.

The South has proposed to hold government talks on several
occasions following the Aug. 25 agreement that ended a standoff
which involved an exchange of artillery fire amid an escalation
of tension following landmine blasts at the border.

The North expressed regret over the landmine incident that
wounded South Korean soldiers, which Seoul blamed on Pyongyang.
The South said the North’s expression of regret was in effect an
apology, although Pyongyang subsequently denied it.

“Now we’re back on again, the game’s afoot,” John Delury, a
North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul, said, adding
the proposal for working-level talks would ease the way for the
two sides to get on with discussions.

“Sometimes these talks break down before they even start
over what level to send, so this sounds like a very pragmatic
and straightforward approach,” he added.

As part of the August agreement, the two sides held reunions
last month of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean war.
North and South Korea are technically still at war because the
conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Relations between the neighbours have been all but frozen
since the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship, which killed
46 sailors, in an incident Seoul blames on the North. Pyongyang
denies any role. Later that year, the North bombed an island of
the South, killing four people.

The South introduced sanctions that year that halted almost
all commercial exchanges between the two sides and rolled back
most of the joint projects set up since 2000, when they held
their first summit meeting, aimed at advancing ties.

(Editing by Tony Munroe and Clarence Fernandez)

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