South, North Korea open joint liaison office in border area

Kyodo, AP

North and South Korea held a ceremony on Friday to open a joint liaison office in the border city of Kaesong, another development that is expected to aid dialogue between the divided Koreas.

The liaison office, located on the North’s side of the border, was born out of an agreement at a historic inter-Korean summit in April and is designed to keep the two Koreas in constant contact while becoming a regular channel for the improvement of relations.

“With the opening of the liaison office, the South and North are now equipped with a system through which the two sides can communicate 365 days,” around the clock, Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon said at the ceremony in Kaesong, according to South Korean media.

In remarks distributed by his office, he said the liaison office will become the “cradle of Korean co-prosperity.”

“We’ll sit face to face, exchange our thoughts fast and accurately and put our heads together to resolve difficult matters.”

Ri Son Gwon, head of the Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, a North Korean state agency in charge of handling inter-Korean affairs, said in his remarks that the two Koreas will now be able to accelerate improvement in ties and take a big step toward peace, co-prosperity and reunification, the media said.

About 50 people from each side attended Friday’s ceremony, including South Korean lawmakers and business representatives.

The establishment of the office comes less than a week before South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hold a summit in Pyongyang, their third since previous rounds in April and May.

The office is located in a facility in the Kaesong industrial park used for a joint economic cooperation project between the two Koreas. The industrial park was shuttered in February 2016 amid worsening ties between the nations.

About 20 officials from South Korean government agencies are slated to man the liaison office, with North Korea assigning staff of an equivalent size. The North and South Korean heads of the office are to hold a meeting every week.

The South Korean officials will sleep at a nearby lodging facility in Kaesong during the weekdays and take turns staffing the office on weekends.

The office will be co-headed by Vice South Korean Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung and a deputy head of Ri’s committee.

The office will also be used as a venue for inter-Korean consultations. Electricity to power the facility will be supplied by the South.

South Korea had planned to open the office by the end of August. The delay led to speculation that the United States was concerned that goods supplied to operate the office might violate economic sanctions on North Korea.

Also Friday, officials from North and South Korea held talks in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Koreas to prepare for the Moon-Kim summit in the North Korean capital from next Tuesday to Thursday, according to the ministry.

The preparatory talks, held at the border village of Panmunjom, were expected to deal with various aspects of the upcoming summit, such as security and media coverage.