Delegates from North and South Korea held talks Friday in Kaesong in southern North Korea, aimed at reducing tensions between the two rival countries, reports said. The talks are a rarity for both the countries, which have been witnessing a strained relationship since August when a land mine explosion at the demilitarized zone injured two South Korean soldiers -- an incident that was blamed on North Korea.
The landmine explosion led to threats of war and a brief exchange of fire between the two sides. Propaganda broadcasts against Pyongyang were also conducted from South Korea, which were stopped only after a deal was struck between both sides later in August. North Korea initially denied planting the mine, but expressed “regret” over the incident, while both the countries also decided to resume the reunions of families separated during the 1950-1953 Korean War.
A report by the Associated Press (AP) said officials from South Korea want to discuss more reunions for separated families and that Pyongyang may also seek for Seoul’s commitment to restart the joint tours of the Diamond Mountain resort that were suspended in 2008 by South Korea after one of its tourists was shot dead by a North Korean soldier. While the Friday talks were not meant to lead to any major breakthrough, analysts view them as being meaningful efforts between both sides to stay committed to previous efforts of reconciliation.
"There are a lot of issues to discuss between the South and North. (We) will do our best to resolve them one at a time, step by step," Hwang Boogi, South Korea's vice minister of unification and the head negotiator for the talks, said, according to AP, before leaving for the talks.
Analysts do not expect a quick improvement in ties because the countries have not yet discussed important topics, including Pyongyang’s nuclear program and the economic sanctions imposed on it by Seoul since 2010. North Korea was accused at the time of firing a torpedo that led to the sinking of a warship, killing 46 South Koreans.
A report by North’s state-run news agency KCNA on Thursday, cited the country’s leader Kim Jong Un, saying the country is now equipped with hydrogen bombs. Kim also said, according to the report, that the country was a “powerful nuclear weapons state ready to detonate self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb to reliably defend its sovereignty.”
Koh Yu-hwan, an expert on North Korea at Seoul's Dongguk University, said that the North Korean leader has set improving ties with Seoul before a convention of the Workers’ Party in May, as a priority. It is also expected that Kim will use the occasion to announce state policies and shuffle the political elite to consolidate more power.