Sunday, February 25, 2024

North Korea reopens military hotline to South

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SEOUL: North Korea on Friday reconnected a military hotline to the South that was cut earlier this year at the height of cross-border tensions, Seoul’s government said.

The line – one of the two remaining inter-Korea military hotlines – was disabled in late March weeks after the North’s third nuclear test and the following month a joint industrial zone was shut down.

The North in early March cut off another line at the border truce village of Panmunjom before reopening it in July when relations showed signs of thawing.

Cross-border army hotlines in other parts of the country were severed years ago when tensions soared and left unrestored since then.

The latest re-establishment of the hotline paves the way for the reopening of the Kaesong industrial zone as it is largely used to provide security guarantees when South Korean businessmen and workers visit the complex.

The North made the first call to the South via the hotline since March on Friday morning, said Seoul’s unification ministry, which handles cross-border affairs.

“Reception is still a bit shaky but at least the connection has been restored,” a ministry spokeswoman told.

It followed an agreement on Thursday at a meeting of the inter-Korea committee tasked with reviving the shuttered Kaesong complex.

The ministry spokeswoman said businessmen from the South would be able to visit the zone – 10 kilometres (six miles) north of the border – to check on infrastructure and facilities left dormant for months but did not give a timeframe.

In April, as tensions increased following the North’s nuclear test, Pyongyang effectively shut down operations at the industrial zone by withdrawing the 53,000 North Korean workers employed at the 123 South Korean plants there. Seoul subsequently withdrew all its managers.

The two Koreas agreed last month to work together to reopen the complex – a valued source of hard currency for the impoverished North – after Pyongyang changed tack to make a flurry of conciliatory gestures.

Separately Friday, a senior US official said North Korea’s nuclear programme was a “driver of instability” in the region, urging Pyongyang to comply with its earlier commitment to denuclearisation.

Daniel Russel, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, made the remarks after he met with South Korean officials including First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kyou-Hyun.

“The focus must be on eliminating the North Korean nuclear programme which constitutes the driver of instability in the region and is vastly out of sync with the developments not only in Asia but in the international community”, Russel told reporters.

Six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear programme have been stalled since late 2008.

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