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Asia North and South Korea achieve breakthroughs at border talks

NORTH and South Korea made progress today in talks at the former village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised border zone.

The delegations agreed to military talks to reduce tensions along the heavily fortified frontier.

They also agreed to reopen a north-south military hotline, as well as North Korean involvement in next month’s winter Olympics in South Korea’s Pyeongchang, the ostensible reason for the talks.

At the start of the first bilateral meeting for two years, North Korean Unification Minister Ri Son Gwon expressed hope for “precious” improvements in relations.

South Korean Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae Sung said later he had also proposed resuming temporary reunions of families separated since the 1950-53 war, and stressed the need to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.

The talks followed last week’s reconnection of a diplomatic hotline after South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon accepted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s offer of dialogue in his New Year’s Day speech.

The military hotline was closed in 2013 after the UN imposed sanctions on the North amid rising military tensions with the US. It was also used to facilitate South Korean workers crossing to the joint industrial complex at Kaesong.

Impeached South Korean president Park Geun Hye shut down operations at Kaesong in February 2016 in retaliation for a North Korean satellite launch.

Panmunjom, inside the demilitarised zone, was where the Korean war armistice was signed.

China, which has proposed a return to six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, welcomed the talks.

But US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s adviser Brian Hook insisted that sanctions would continue until Washington reached its goal of “the complete verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.”

North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun rejected US President Donald Trump’s claim that intensified sanctions and military sabre-rattling had forced Pyongyang to the table.

Last week Mr Trump agreed to delay the latest joint war games with South Korea — a biannual source of confrontation with the North — until after the Olympics and repeated his surprise offer last year to meet with Mr Kim.

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