S. Korea seeks rare talks with North to ease military tensions

South Korean army soldiers pass by military vehicles deployed in the Korean War era at Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, Monday. (AP)
Updated 17 July 2017
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S. Korea seeks rare talks with North to ease military tensions

SEOUL: South Korea on Monday offered to hold rare military talks with North Korea, aiming to ease tensions after Pyongyang tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile.
The offer of talks, the first since South Korea elected dovish President Moon Jae-In, came as the Red Cross in Seoul proposed a separate meeting to discuss reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
The South’s Defense Ministry proposed a meeting to be held on Friday at the border truce village of Panmunjom, while the Red Cross offered to hold talks on Aug. 1 at the same venue.
If the government meeting goes ahead, it will mark the first official inter-Korea talks since December 2015. Moon’s conservative predecessor Park Geun-Hye had refused to engage in substantive dialogue with Pyongyang unless it made a firm commitment to denuclearization.
“We make the proposal for a meeting ... aimed at stopping all hostile activities that escalate military tension along the land border,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The Red Cross said it hoped for “a positive response” from its counterpart in the North in hopes of holding family reunions in early October. If realized, they would be the first for two years.
Millions of family members were separated by the conflict that sealed the division of the two countries. Many died without getting a chance to see or hear from their families on the other side of the heavily fortified border, across which all civilian communication is banned.
With the passage of time, the number of survivors has diminished, with only around 60,000 members of divided families still left in the South.
“North Korea should respond to our sincere proposals if it really seeks peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Cho Myoung-Gyon, Seoul’s unification minister in charge of North Korea affairs, told reporters.
Cho stressed that Seoul “would not seek collapse of the North or unification through absorbing the North,” and urged Pyongyang to restore cross-border communication channels including a shuttered military hotline.
Moon, who took power in May, has advocated dialogue with the nuclear-armed North to bring it to the negotiating table and vowed to play a more active role in global efforts to tame the South’s unpredictable neighbor.
But Pyongyang has staged a series of missile launches in violation of UN resolutions — most recently on July 4 when it test-fired its first ICBM, a move which triggered global alarm and a push by US President Donald Trump to impose harsher UN sanctions.
Washington has also called on China, the North’s sole ally, to put more pressure on Pyongyang to curb its nuclear ambitions, which have advanced rapidly under leader Kim Jong-Un.
The latest ICBM test — which Kim described as a “gift” to the Americans — was seen as a milestone in Pyongyang’s quest to build a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead that can hit the US mainland.
China’s Foreign Ministry welcomed Seoul’s peace gesture, saying it hopes “the two sides will move in a positive direction to... break up the stalemate and to relaunch the dialogue and negotiations.”
China is reluctant to pressure the North too far for fear of regime collapse. It is worried about an influx of refugees and possible US troops stationed on its border in an unified Korea.
The proposed meetings would be a “rare opportunity to ease tension that has built up for 10 years,” said Cheong Seong-Chang, of the South’s Sejong Institute think tank.
“It would at least help let off some steam out of the current crisis, although the North would still maintain that it would not give up its weapons programs,” he said.
The agenda for the military meeting could include moves to suspend propaganda campaigns operated on both sides of the border for years, Cheong added.
The South’s military has deployed dozens of giant loudspeakers along the tense border to blare out a mix of world news, K-pop songs and other propaganda targeting young North Korean soldiers.
The military has also occasionally launched giant balloons containing anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.
The North has responded with its own propaganda broadcasts and sent anti-Seoul leaflets via giant balloons across the border.


Afghan leaders ‘optimistic’ over Taliban peace talks

Updated 24 June 2018
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Afghan leaders ‘optimistic’ over Taliban peace talks

  • The Taliban last week rejected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to extend the truce, but a government spokesman said on Saturday that the government was optimistic the militants were willing to engage in peace talks.
  • After ending the truce, the Taliban said its attacks against foreign troops and Afghans supporting them would continue.

KABUL: The Afghan government is confident of holding peace talks with Taliban militants despite a recent surge of attacks by insurgents, a palace spokesman said.

Shah Hussain Murtazawi said the announcement last week of a brief truce by the Taliban over Eid, the increasing movement of extremists and some field commanders to government-held areas, and a call for peace by the Imam of Makkah and the Saudi monarch were the basis of the government’s optimism.

The Taliban last week rejected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to extend the truce, but Murtazawi said on Saturday that the government was optimistic the militants were willing to engage in peace talks.

“A new chapter has been opened and the broad support for a cease-fire and an end to the war are the causes for our optimism,” he told Arab News.

“The fact that Taliban announced a truce and their commanders came into towns and celebrated Eid with government officials are positive signs that the extremists will be ready for talks with the government.”

However, no contact has been established with leaders of the group since the militants called off their truce, Murtazawi said.

After ending the truce, the Taliban said its attacks against foreign troops and Afghans supporting them would continue. Scores of Afghan troops have been killed in a spate of attacks, including assaults on military bases where the insurgents joined government forces to celebrate Eid.

Some tribal chiefs and local officials are calling for “safe zones” where extremists can hold initial talks with the government, according to a local official who refused to be named.