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Two Koreas hold second day of high-level talks

Hwang Boogi (L), South Korea’s vice minister of unification, shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart Jon Jong-su in Kaesong, North Korea, December 11, 2015. ©AP

Officials from North and South Korea have met for a second day of high-level talks aimed at normalizing relations soured by cross-border military tensions.

On Saturday, officials from North Korea and South Korea began vice-minister-level talks with an agenda to discuss a wide range of undisclosed inter-Korean issues in the Kaesong joint industrial zone on the North Korean side of the border.

The official agenda of the meeting has not been made public; however, reports suggest they may discuss more regular reunions between families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and the resumption of South Korean tours to the North’s Mount Kumgang resort, which were suspended in 2008 by Seoul.

The first round of talks was held on Friday, and according to a statement released by the South Korean Unification Ministry following the session, “the two sides had a broad discussion of pending issues and exchanged views in a sincere manner.”

The negotiations are the latest in a series of steps to improve relations after a tense standoff that began in August, when two South Korean soldiers were seriously hurt by landmine explosions along the border. Pyongyang, however, denied any role in the assault.

A South Korean army soldier patrols at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, August 21, 2015. ©AP

Shortly after the incident, Seoul began broadcasting, via loudspeakers, provocative propaganda messages over the border, infuriating the North, which threatened to shell the loudspeakers.

South Korea then fired artillery rounds towards the North, saying it had come under a shelling attack from the North. Pyongyang denied the allegation and declared a “quasi state of war.”

The two sides later held four days of marathon talks alongside a military buildup along the border and reached a landmark agreement to resolve tensions along the demilitarized zone.

Among other thorny issues hindering Pyongyang-Seoul ties is the South’s annual drills with the United States. The North describes the maneuvers as rehearsals for war.

South Korea is also critical of its northern neighbor’s missile tests as well as what it calls nuclear threats, blaming Pyongyang for simmering tensions on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea says the tests are for defensive purposes.

The two Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-1953 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

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