New Delhi: North and South Korea have started their first official talks after more than two years to decide the status of North Korea’s participation in next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.
The talks began on Tuesday morning after months of rising tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
The discussions will focus on North Korean participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Games, which opens on 9 February, but could also include other inter-Korean issues such as the resumption of reunions between family members split apart at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to media reports.
Millions of Koreans have died in the conflict, with the armistice signed at Panmunjom leaving the peninsula divided. The two Koreas are technically still at war in the absence of a formal peace treaty.
The demilitarized zone (DMZ) is a border barrier that divides the Korean Peninsula roughly in half and is one of the world’s most heavily fortified frontiers loaded with minefields and watchtowers.
The five-member North Korean delegation traveled to the border in a motorcade and then reached into the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom at around 9:30 am local time, according to the unification ministry.
Discussions are expected to focus on whether athletes from the two Koreas will make joint entrances to the opening and closing ceremonies, as they did in Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004 and at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.
“Today, North and South Korea will engage in talks in a serious and sincere stance,” said Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North’s committee for the peaceful reunification of the fatherland and head of the country’s delegation to the talks.
The South Korean unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, said, “We will make efforts to make the Pyeongchang games and the Paralympics a ‘peace festival’ and help it serve as the first step toward an improvement in inter-Korean ties.”
There are no direct telephone communications between North and South Korea for ordinary citizens.