SEOUL, Jan. 9 — The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) offered Tuesday to send a high-ranking delegation as well as athletes and cheering squads to the South Korea-hosted Winter Olympics, heralding a thaw in inter-Korean relations.
During the inter-Korean talks, which started earlier in the day in the truce village of Panmunjom, the South Korean side asked the DPRK to
dispatch many of its athletes and cheering squads to the 2018 Winter Olympics, according to Seoul’s unification ministry. The DPRK side responded more positively, saying it will dispatch its high-ranking delegation, the delegation of the National Olympic Committee, athletes, cheering squads, a performing arts team, a demonstration team for traditional martial art Taekwondo, visitors as well as press corps. The two sides exchanged views on each other’s needs during the plenary session for the first inter-Korean talks in around two years, which lasted for about an hour from 10:00 a.m. local time (0100 GMT).
The session was followed by a meeting between chief negotiators from South Korea and the DPRK which continued for 50 minutes from 11:30 a.m.(0230 GMT). During the session, South Korea proposed holding a Red Cross dialogue for the reunion of separate families during the upcoming Lunar New Year in February as well as inter-Korean talks between the military authorities to prevent possible clashes near the military demarcation line (MDL) by accident. Talks with Pyongyang about humanitarian and military issues were already suggested by Seoul in July last year. The reunion of the families divided as a result of the 1950-1953 Korean War across the two Koreas was an emotionally-charging issue as it was sparsely held on the basis of political situations.
People from South Korea and the DPRK have been banned from visiting and contacting each other since the Korean War ended in armistice instead of a peace treaty. The Korean Peninsula remains technically in a state of war. The South Korean side also offered to resume talks with the DPRK to stop
any hostile act on the Korean Peninsula and build peace by rapidly denuclearizing the peninsula. In response, the DPRK said issues should be resolved through dialogue and negotiations to promote reconciliation and unity and secure peace on the peninsula. Seoul’s unification ministry said the two sides exchanged broad, in-depth opinions with each other. After lunch, the two sides would resume talks in the afternoon.
The inter-Korean dialogue was first held since the new South Korean government under President Moon Jae-in was inaugurated in May last year. The latest was held in December 2015 between vice ministerial-level officials from the two sides. The five-member South Korean delegation was led by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, while five delegates from the DPRK were headed by Ri Son-gwon, chief of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland. Ri said in his introductory remarks that he hoped to give the first New Year’s gift to people on the Korean Peninsula, which would be a “precious outcome” of the talks, by dealing well with this meeting in a sincere manner.
In response, Cho said the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games was anticipated to become a peace festival as the delegation, which he described as “precious visitors,” would come from the DPRK. Cho said the inter-Korean dialogue was resumed after a long hiatus, asking his DPRK counterpart to continue talks with a firm will and patience. Signs of a thaw in inter-Korean relations emerged as top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un said in his New Year’s address that his country was willing to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics and talk with South Korea about it. The following day, South Korea proposed to the DPRK holding the high-level intergovernmental talks. Pyongyang accepted the dialogue overture without changing the timing or venue that South Korea had suggested.
Before leaving for the dialogue venue, the South Korean chief delegate told reporters that he will face the meeting “calmly and not hurriedly” to make the 2018 Winter Olympics a peace festival and move a first step toward improving inter-Korean relations. The South Korean delegation arrived at Peace House, the dialogue venue in Panmunjom at 8:46 a.m. (2346 GMT Monday). The DPRK delegation arrived at a place near the Peace House at around 9:30 a.m. (0030 GMT), crossing the military demarcation line (MDL) on foot to the dialogue venue. – XINHUA