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North, South Korea restore cross-border hotline

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The restoration comes just days after Pyongyang sparked international concern with a series of missile tests. AFP

North, South Korea restore cross-border hotline

North and South Korea restored their cross-border hotline on October 4, a step that Seoul said could help improve relations after Pyongyang sparked global concern with a string of missile tests in recent weeks.

The two sides resumed communications with officials exchanging their first phone call since August, days after the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting over the North Korean missile tests.

The two Koreas had signalled a surprise thaw in relations in late July by announcing the resumption of cross-border communications – severed more than a year earlier – but the detente was short-lived, as Pyongyang stopped answering calls just two weeks later.

Seoul's unification ministry confirmed the phone call at 9am on October 4 between officials from the two rivals – a call that had gone unanswered previously.

"It's been a while and I'm very happy that the communication line has been restored," a South Korean official told his northern counterpart in footage provided to reporters by the ministry.

The South's defence ministry also confirmed that cross-border military communications have resumed.

"With the restoration of the South-North communication line, the government evaluates that a foundation for recovering inter-Korean relations has been provided," the unification ministry said in a statement.

“Through the stable management of the communication lines and swift resumption of talks, the government hopes to start substantive discussions on implementing agreements between the two Koreas, improving inter-Korean relations and making peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

Earlier on October 4, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had "expressed the intention of restoring the cut-off north-south communication lines" with the South at 9am, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said, calling for Seoul to fulfil its “tasks”, without specifying further.

It reported that the move was an attempt to establish "lasting peace" on the Korean peninsula.

“The South Korean authorities should make positive efforts to put the North-South ties on a right track and settle the important tasks which must be prioritised to open up the bright prospect in the future, bearing deep in mind the meaning of the restoration of communication lines,” it said.

But an analyst played down October 4’s restoration as a "symbolic" gesture, noting the North's recent missile launches.

"Even if this leads to talks, we may enter a new phase where North Korea engages in dialogue but continues to carry out provocations simultaneously," said Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University.

North Korea had unilaterally cut off all official military and political communication links in June last year over activists sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

The two sides said on July 27 this year that all lines were restored.

Their joint announcement, which coincided with the anniversary of the end of the Korean War, was the first positive development since a series of summits between Kim and the South's President Moon Jae-in in 2018 failed to achieve any significant breakthrough.

They also revealed at the time that Kim and Moon had exchanged a series of letters since April in which they agreed that re-establishing hotlines would be a productive first step in rebooting relations between the two rivals which, despite the end of their 1950-1953 conflict, remain technically at war.

But the cross-border communication lasted for just two weeks, with the North dropping them in protest at joint South Korea-US military drills.

In the period since, Pyongyang has held a series of tension-raising missile tests.

In September, it launched what it said was a long-range cruise missile, and last week it tested what it described as a hypersonic gliding vehicle, which South Korea's military said appeared to be in the early stages of development.

On October 1, it said it had successfully fired a new anti-aircraft missile.

Pyongyang slammed the UN Security Council on October 3 for holding an emergency meeting over the missile tests, accusing member states of toying with a "time-bomb".



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