S. Korea reopens communication channel with DPRK in Panmunjom
South Korea's unification ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs said Wednesday that it reopened a communication channel with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the truce village of Panmunjom amid rising expectations for the DPRK's participation in South Korea-hosted winter sports event.
People watch a public TV screen showing a North Korean newscaster reading a statement at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. [Photo: AP/Ahn Young-joon]
The ministry said in a statement that the DPRK side gave a contact to the South Korean side via the communication channel in Panmunjom at 3:30 p.m. local time (0630 GMT) as announced by Pyongyang.
During the contact, which lasted for about 20 minutes, the two sides made the technical check of the cross-border hotline, which had not operated for almost two years.
The liaison office channel of Panmunjom has been cut off since the previous South Korean government unilaterally closed down the inter-Korean industrial zone in the DPRK's border town of Kaesong in February 2016. The shutdown followed the DPRK's fourth nuclear test the previous month.
Before the cut-off, South Korea and the DPRK operated two cross-border hotlines, including the Panmunjom liaison office channel and the military hotline. Those hotlines were not physically severed, but the DPRK hadn't responded to Seoul's call.
During the first inter-Korean contact via the restored hotline, the two sides discussed no detail on Seoul's proposal Tuesday to Pyongyang holding a senior-level, inter-governmental dialogue on Jan. 9 at the Peace House, the South Korean building in Panmunjom.
The dialogue proposal came a day after top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un said in his New Year address that his country was willing to participate in the South Korea-hosted Winter Olympics and to talk with South Korea about it.
The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games were slated to kick off in February at South Korea's namesake county of PyeongChang in the eastern Gangwon province.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in hailed Kim's New Year speech, ordering government officials to rapidly restore inter-Korean talks and draw up follow-up measures to allow the DPRK's delegation to join the Winter Olympics.
Earlier in the day, the DPRK's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland announced that the DPRK's leader ordered the reopening of the communications channel in Panmunjom to make working-level discussions on issues on the dispatch of the DPRK's delegation to the Winter Olympics.
The committee said the DPRK will closely contact the South Korean side from an earnest and sincere attitude as it was commissioned by top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un.
Yoon Young-chan, senior press secretary for President Moon, told reporters that the reopening had a great meaning, saying it would make possible inter-Korean talks in a regular manner.
The unification ministry said in a statement that it hailed Pyongyang's positive response to Seoul's offer to resume the communications channel in Panmunjom.
It said South Korea will make working-level discussions on issues on the senior-level, inter-governmental dialogue via the reopened communication channel.