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Tuesday, August 1, 2000

North, South Korea agree
to reopen liaison offices

By Jim Lea
Osan bureau chief

PYONGTAEK, South Korea — Seoul and Pyongyang have agreed to reopen liaison offices at Panmunjom, giving rise to hope that the 1991 Basic Agreement between the once-bitter enemies finally will be implemented.

Those steps were announced Monday at the end of the first ministerial level meeting held between the two sides in eight years.

Rail service between the two Koreas, halted in 1945, will also resume, and the two countries agreed to sponsor ceremonies "in their respective regions and abroad to support and welcome the South-North Joint Declaration" issued at the end of last month’s historic Inter-Korea Summit.

Seoul sees reopening of rail service as a major step toward helping to improve the North’s faltering economy.

The two sides will hold another ministerial-level meeting in Pyongyang from Aug. 29 to Aug. 31.

The two sides also said they will take "appropriate measures" to allow Korean residents in Japan to visit their hometowns on the peninsula.

There was no mention of establishing a military hot line between the two Koreas to help reduce tensions on the peninsula or a possible visit to the South by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The South’s delegation had hoped to discuss those matters.

The reopening of liaison offices is a significant step in the history of relations between the two Koreas. The offices originally were opened in 1992 after Seoul and Pyongyang signed what has become known as the Basic Agreement on relations between them. The agreement was announced in December 1991 and became effective on Feb. 19, 1992. The liaison offices closed in 1996 after a North Korea submarine infiltrated the South.

It includes a nonaggression pact, calls for implementation of inter-Korean cooperation, allows free travel between the two countries and re-establishes mail and telephone service between the two countries.

So far, the only concrete step taken to implement the accord was the opening of liaison offices near the Demilitarized Zone. A number of disputes, controversies and military provocations — which each side blames on the other — have kept the offices inactive, however.

Seoul Mayor Koh Kun hosted a dinner for delegates of the two sides Sunday night. In a televised speech, Koh said that "using the ministerial talks as a springboard, I’m sure that Seoul and Pyongyang will be able to launch more cooperation and exchanges in all areas including sports, public health, the environment, economics, cultural and civil matters."

The North’s 25-man delegation was to make a courtesy call on South Korean President Kim before leaving Seoul on Monday.

Bae Gi-chul contributed to this report.

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