N Korea offers talks with South on Nov 26

N Korea offers talks with South on Nov 26
South Korean (bottom) and North Korean (top) guard posts are seen on either side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.

Seoul - North Korea on Friday proposed working-level talks with South Korea next week, apparently aimed at setting up a high-level dialogue that the two rivals had agreed to in August.

The North's official KCNA news agency said the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which handles relations with the South, had sent Seoul a notice proposing initial talks on November 26 at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

The notice was received by the Unification Ministry in Seoul, which said it was studying the offer.

If the meeting goes ahead, it will be the first governmental interaction since officials met in Panmunjom in August to seek their way out of a crisis that had pushed both sides to the brink of an armed conflict.

Those talks ended with a joint agreement that included a commitment to resume high-level talks, although no precise timeline was given.

A Unification Ministry official said Seoul had sent talks proposals to Pyongyang in September and October but, until now, had received no response.

Under the terms of the August agreement, Seoul switched off loudspeakers blasting propaganda messages across the border after the North expressed regret over recent mine blasts that maimed two South Korean soldiers.

The South interpreted the regret as an "apology" but the North's powerful National Defence Commission has since stressed that it was meant only as an expression of sympathy.

Pyongyang's talks proposal comes amid diplomatic shifts in the Northeast Asia region that have left North Korea looking more isolated than ever, with Seoul moving closer to Pyongyang's main diplomatic and economic ally China, and improving strained relations with Tokyo.

Earlier this month, the leaders of South Korea, China and Japan held their first summit for more than three years in Seoul.

Although the focus was on trade and other economic issues, the three declared their "firm opposition" to the development of nuclear weapons on the North Korean peninsula.

North Korea is already under a raft of UN sanctions imposed after its three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

It has also come under increasing pressure on the human rights front, following a report published last year by a UN commission that concluded North Korea was committing human rights violations "without parallel in the contemporary world".

A UN General Assembly committee on Thursday condemned those "gross" violations in North Korea, in a resolution adopted by a record majority.

The resolution, which will go to the full General Assembly for a vote next month, encourages the Security Council to consider referring Pyongyang to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Such a move would likely be blocked by China, which has veto power in the council.

See also: Shock, hugs and tears as war-divided Koreans reunite

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