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Unification minister highlights progress in easing tensions with NK after Pyongyang summit

Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said Thursday that cross-border military tensions between the two Koreas have declined significantly thanks to the implementation of their summit agreements last year.

Kim made the remark during an event in Seoul to mark the first anniversary of the third inter-Korean summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang last year.

The two held three summit meetings, including the latest one in September, where they agreed to stop hostile acts and make efforts to reduce military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

"In particular, military tensions on the Korean Peninsula have decreased significantly thanks to the concrete implementations of agreements and peace that our people can actually feel have been realized," Kim said.

"All hostile acts on the ground, at sea and in the air have stopped and the chances of accidental clashes between the South and the North have also declined a lot," he added.

Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul (Yonhap)
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul (Yonhap)

Kim referred to efforts to disarm the border town of Panmunjom and eliminate landmines from the border area on the east coast as agreed in the September summit.

He also highlighted the opening of hiking trails near the border to the public, saying that the move is turning the symbol of military tensions between the two Koreas into a space for peace and cooperation.

The minister, however, did not mention all-but stalled cross-border exchanges in recent months, hamstrung by lack of progress in denuclearization talks.

The North has not responded to Seoul's offers for talks, cooperative projects and humanitarian assistance.

Pyongyang stepped up criticism of South Korea for conducting a joint military drill with the US, which it sees as a rehearsal for invasion. It has conducted a series of weapons tests in protest.

Apparently reflecting the recently chilled ties, South Korea did not invite North Korea to Thursday's event to mark the summit anniversary.

North Korean media outlets stayed mum on the summit anniversary, in contrast to their reporting in April on the current state of inter-Korean relations in time for the anniversary of the inter-Korean summit held last year.

With regard to denuclearization negotiations likely to happen in the near future between the United States and North Korea, he said that building strong mutual trust will be critical in making progress.

"Since it is all about overcoming a wall of age-old distrust and confrontation, there would be a tough road lying ahead," he said.

"Only when productive and reasonable negotiations take place based on sufficient trust between the North and the US can the North make a significant step toward denuclearization."

Kim said that South Korea will do whatever it takes to make the upcoming nuclear talks produce good results by closely cooperating with the US and keeping communication channels open for North Korea.

North Korea recently said that working-level talks with the US will likely take place "in a few weeks" but noted that discussions on denuclearization will be possible only after all threats to the regime are fully removed.

South Korea had planned to hold the summit anniversary event in Paju, a town near the inter-Korean border, but it was cancelled due to the outbreak of African swine fever at a nearby pig farm earlier this week.

It, instead, held a separate, scaled-down event in Seoul. (Yonhap)