November 20, 2015 / 2:26 AM / 2 years ago

North and South Korea set for talks on easing tension

SEOUL (Reuters) - North and South Korea agreed on Friday to hold talks on Nov. 26, setting the stage for the first government-level meeting focused on easing tension since the two pledged to improve ties following an armed standoff in August.

The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, its main agency handling inter-Korean ties, proposed to hold working-level contact for government talks, at a truce village on their militarized border.

The South’s Unification Ministry, which handles ties with Pyongyang, said it had accepted the proposal.

The South has proposed to hold government talks on several occasions following the Aug. 25 agreement that ended a standoff which involved an exchange of artillery fire amid an escalation of tension following landmine blasts at the border.

The North expressed regret over the landmine incident that wounded South Korean soldiers, which Seoul blamed on Pyongyang. The South said the North’s expression of regret was in effect an apology, although Pyongyang subsequently denied it.

“Now we’re back on again, the game’s afoot,” John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul, said, adding the proposal for working-level talks would ease the way for the two sides to get on with discussions.

“Sometimes these talks break down before they even start over what level to send, so this sounds like a very pragmatic and straightforward approach,” he added.

As part of the August agreement, the two sides held reunions last month of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean war. North and South Korea are technically still at war because the conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Relations between the neighbors have been all but frozen since the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship, which killed 46 sailors, in an incident Seoul blames on the North. Pyongyang denies any role. Later that year, the North bombed an island of the South, killing four people.

The South introduced sanctions that year that halted almost all commercial exchanges between the two sides and rolled back most of the joint projects set up since 2000, when they held their first summit meeting, aimed at advancing ties.

Editing by Tony Munroe and Clarence Fernandez

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