South Korea offers rare talks with North to avoid border conflict

South Korean soldiers stand guard at the border village of Panmunjom between South and North Korea

Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo Suk said the South's defense officials are proposing talks at the border village of Panmunjom on Friday to discuss how to end hostile activities along the border.

An agenda has not been specified for the military meeting, but the Red Cross meeting would be expected to cover ways to resume family reunions with the Chuseok holiday coming up in October.

"With the words, the South Korean government may mean suspending propaganda loudspeaker broadcasts or anti-North Korean leaflet drops, but the North could demand halt of joint military drills between South Korea and the United States", said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea specialist at Dongguk University in Seoul. Seoul's acting Red Cross chief Kim Sun Hyang said it wants separate talks at the border village on August 1 to discuss family reunions.

If a meeting takes place, it will mark the first military talks between the neighbours in three years.

Seoul's proposal for two sets of talks indicates President Moon Jae-in is pushing to improve ties with Pyongyang despite the North's first intercontinental ballistic missile this month.

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"[We] hope the DPRK Red Cross Society will respond to our suggestion through the liaison office of the South and North Korean Red Cross in Panmunjom", Kim said.

South Korean Minister of Unification Cho Myong-gyon said on Monday the suspension of hostile acts and the reunion of the separated families are "the most urgent issues to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and to achieve the inter-Korean cooperation".

"We should keep on watching North Korea's response in the future, but we will persistently endeavor to make these proposals realized without fluctuating between joy and grief according to [the North's] response", Cho told media.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North's ruling party, carried a commentary by a private writer, on Saturday saying it seemed "fortunate" as Moon included his government's committment to the landmark joint declarations signed at the inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007.

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