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‘No response from North Korea as proposed talks loom’

By AFP - Jul 20,2017 - Last updated at Jul 20,2017

Sarah Son, research director of Transitional Justice Working Group, points at a map containing information of important facilities in border city Hyesan in a report compiled by Transitional Justice Working Group during an interview in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday (Reuters photo)

SEOUL — Hours before proposed military talks between South and North Korea, Pyongyang on Thursday still refused to confirm its participation, officials said.

Seoul's defence ministry had offered rare talks with the North at the Panmunjom truce village on the heavily militarised inter-Korean border to discuss tension reduction on Friday.

"There has been no response as of late Thursday," a defence ministry spokesman told AFP.

The Red Cross in Seoul had also proposed a meeting August 1 at the same venue to discuss reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

The twin proposals are the first concrete steps towards rapprochement with North since South Korea in May elected President Moon Jae-in, who favours greater engagement with Pyongyang.

The military meeting would mark the first official inter-Korea talks since December 2015. Moon's conservative predecessor Park Geun-hye had refused to engage in substantive dialogue with Pyongyang unless it made a firm commitment to denuclearisation.

Park was engulfed in a massive corruption scandal that resulted in her impeachment and subsequent ouster from office in March.

The South's Red Cross earlier said it hoped for "a positive response" from its counterpart in the North in hopes of holding family reunions in early October. If realised, they would be the first for two years.

Millions of family members were separated by the conflict that sealed the division of the two countries. Many died without getting a chance to see or hear from their families on the other side of the heavily-fortified border, across which all civilian communication is banned.

Around 60,000 members of divided families survive in the South.

Moon, who took power in May, has advocated dialogue with the nuclear-armed North to bring it to the negotiating table and vowed to play a more active role in global efforts to tame the South's unpredictable neighbour.

 

But Pyongyang has staged a series of missile launches in violation of UN resolutions — most recently on July 4 when it test-fired its first ICBM, a move which triggered global alarm and a push by US President Donald Trump to impose harsher UN sanctions.

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