Republic of Korea Army soldiers stand in the Joint Security Area, where South and North Korean soldiers face each other across the Korean Demilitarized Zone in Panmunjom, South Korea on June 19, 2018.
By KIM GAMEL | Stars and Stripes | Published: September 13, 2018
SEOUL, South Korea — The U.S.-led United Nations Command on Thursday approved planned border crossings for South Koreans and material to build a new communication building and to open a new liaison office in a North Korean border village.
The decisions came amid a flurry of activity as the two Koreas move to improve relations amid efforts to restart stalled nuclear talks between the North and the United States.
The UNC controls the southern part of the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone, a 2.5-mile wide buffer zone that has divided the peninsula since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.
Gen. Vincent Brooks, who commands the UNC and U.S. Forces Korea, authorized the movement of South Korean vehicles and personnel across the so-called Military Demarcation Line in the eastern transportation corridor, the command said in a statement.
The move was to support construction of communication material to be used between the two Koreas, it said, adding that approval allows more material that is needed to repair communication lines and will result in the construction of a communication building.
“UNC has and continues to actively enable all of the engagements between North and South Korea that require crossing the military demarcation line and the demilitarized zone, which are under the authority of UN Command,” Brooks said.
“While this request was unusual in the amount of construction material South Korea is carrying across, I am keen to ensure good communication infrastructure exists between the two sides as a way to prevent incidents or crises,” he added.
Brooks stressed the construction was in the spirit of the armistice agreement.
More details about the communication initiative were not immediately available.
The South Korean government also coordinated the crossing of delegations for a planned opening ceremony on Friday of a new liaison office in Kaesong, which is just north of the DMZ and was the site of a defunct joint business venture.
The UNC approved a request for more than 100 South Korean government officials to visit the site on Friday, according to the statement.
South Korea’s presidential office said separately that it will hold working-level talks with North Korea on Friday to prepare for next week’s inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet for the third time since April 27.
Efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons will be high on the agenda for the three-day summit, which will begin on Tuesday.
Hopes rise as two Koreas open de facto joint embassy on North's side of border
SEOUL (Reuters) - North and South Korea will open a joint liaison office on the North’s side of the heavily militarized border on Friday, a South Korean official said, as hopes rise for progress in stalled denuclearization talks at a summit next week.
A North Korean soldier patrols at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 18, 2018. Picture taken on April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo
The joint liaison office, seen as the start of a de facto embassy, is another step toward closer cooperation between the two Koreas.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will hold their third meeting this year in Pyongyang next week, when it is hoped they can help resolve a diplomatic impasse between the United States and North Korea.
The South Korean government had hoped to open the office by August but it was delayed when denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea stalled after an historic summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.
However, Kim sent a message to South Korean envoys last week that he wants to achieve denuclearization during Trump’s first term. That followed what Trump described as a “very warm” letter from Kim requesting another meeting, which rekindled hopes for progress.
The two Koreas previously communicated by fax and special phone lines, which were at times cut off when inter-Korean relations sank, but will now be able to “communicate 24 hours, 365 days”, South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said this week.
Vice minister-level officials from North and South respectively will head the new office and will also serve as permanent negotiation representatives at weekly meetings, Baik said.
“We will manage inter-Korean relations stably and hope that this will also help the progress of denuclearization talks between North Korea and the United States,” he said.
About 50-60 people each from North and South Korea will attend an opening ceremony for the new office on Friday, the unification ministry said.
It is located in Kaesong on North Korea’s side of the border, about 60 km (37 miles) from Seoul and 141 km from Pyongyang.