Cross-border tensions between Koreas fade

Cross-border tensions between Koreas fade
The DMZ train traveling along the border areas comes to a halt at Daemari Station in Cheolwon, Gangwon Province, on Sunday. Its operations had been stopped for some time due to cross-border tensions.
PHOTO: The Korea Herald/ANN

On Saturday, a day after Seoul proposed the Red Cross talks, Pyongyang agreed to hold them to determine the time, venue and the scale of reunions at South Korea's Peace House in the truce village of Panmunjeom, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.

The talks were arranged four days after the two Koreas agreed to hold the working-level talks early next month. After the four-day marathon talks last Tuesday, the two agreed to seek the reunions on the occasion of Chuseok, a major Korean holiday that falls on Sept. 27.

The family reunions are expected to be held in early October given preparatory procedures including a survey of the surviving members of the separated families. The reunions have not been held since February 2014 amid high cross-border tensions.

Pyongyang's relatively easy acceptance of the proposal for the Red Cross talks signaled its will to mend fences with Seoul, observers said. In the past, Pyongyang often made counterproposals to reject Seoul's offers of dialogue or unilaterally cancelled the talks.

Last Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un indicated his desire to improve ties with the South, evaluating the agreement of the latest high-level talks as a "significant turning point" to bring cross-border relations on a path toward reconciliation and trust.

Amid the emergent mood for dialogue, the two Koreas were seen downgrading their vigilance posture to a peacetime level.

As agreed upon during last week's high-level talks, Pyongyang has lifted its "quasi-state of war" and reportedly withdrawn its special vigilance directives. Seoul has also revised downward its military readiness posture, according to reports.

Despite these positive developments, Seoul officials cautioned against excessive optimism over the prospects of inter-Korean ties, noting that a series of pending issues could derail the two neighbours' reconciliatory and trust-building efforts.

"We never know what would happen during the future talks with the North. We are not yet at the stage to predict (a positive development of inter-Korean relations), and we thus maintain a calm position," a senior Seoul official told media.

Indeed, a number of tough issues including Pyongyang's unceasing pursuit of nuclear arms are expected to fuel cross-border tensions. In particular, the issue of the lifting of Seoul's so-called May 24 sanctions against Pyongyang remains a daunting challenge with both sides refusing to budge.

Seoul is adamant in its position that should it want the sanctions to be lifted, Pyongyang should apologise for its 2010 torpedo attack on the corvette Cheonan that killed 46 sailors, while Pyongyang continues to deny its responsibility.

Apart from the pending issues, the North's possible additional provocations could bring the two Koreas back on a collision course.

Analysts presume that the reclusive state could set off provocations such as a long-range rocket launch around Oct. 10, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North's ruling Workers' Party, to strengthen its internal unity and show off its military presence to the outside world.

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