S Korea plays down thaw with North

2013-08-21 16:02
North Korean Army Col Kim Chang Jun, stands behind field binoculars on a hilltop overlooking the demilitarised zone which separates the two Koreas in south of Kaesong. (AP)

North Korean Army Col Kim Chang Jun, stands behind field binoculars on a hilltop overlooking the demilitarised zone which separates the two Koreas in south of Kaesong. (AP)

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Seoul - South Korea's point man on North Korea on Wednesday played down expectations of any imminent turnaround in inter-Korean relations following a recent flurry of movement on cross-border projects.

"There is no quick solution to a lot of pending issues. We will have to solve them gradually, step by step," Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae told a press briefing.

After months of sustained military tensions that followed North Korea's military test in February, Seoul and Pyongyang have started talking again - and with some signs of progress.

Last week they agreed to work together to reopen their shuttered Kaesong joint industrial complex, and to talk about resuming reunions for families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.

The North has also suggested discussions on restarting South Korean tours to its Mount Kumgang resort.

The sudden burst of to-and-fro activity has raised hopes of a genuine thaw, but Ryoo stressed that nothing had been settled with the projects under discussion.

"We are really just on our marks with the agreement on Kaesong," he said.

The two sides have yet to agree on a venue for the talks - initially scheduled for Friday - between their respective Red Cross groups on the family reunions, and the South has made it clear that a meeting about trips to Mount Kumgang will have to wait a while.

"We would like to address pending issues one by one," Ryoo said, adding that South Korea had no intention of lowering its military guard in the meantime.

"There will be a resolute response to any provocation," he said.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has insisted there can be no substantial discussions on strategic issues unless the North makes a credible commitment to abandoning its nuclear weapons programme.

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