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2 Koreas restore key hot line despite tension

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SEOUL, South Korea — The two Koreas restored an important cross-border communication channel on Wednesday, though South Korea still rejected North Korea’s calls for talks meant to defuse high tensions.

The North cut off the Red Cross communication line at the border village of Panmunjom last year when tension spiked over the sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang. Relations between the Koreas further soured after a North Korean artillery attack that killed four South Koreans on a front-line island in November.

The North, however, has recently proposed resuming talks with South Korea. It also made conciliatory gestures Monday, offering to restore the Red Cross line and allowing South Korean officials back into a joint factory park in the North.

Seoul has so far rebuffed the dialogue offer as a ploy for aid, saying the North must demonstrate responsibility for the attacks and take steps toward nuclear disarmament before talks can be held. North Korea has denied involvement in the ship sinking, which killed 46 sailors.

South Korea, however, decided to let telecommunication workers from the two Koreas restore the Red Cross line, which is used for exchanging messages on humanitarian issues such as reunions of separated families, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

Shortly after the line was restored, South Korea sent a message saying, "The communication channel should never be unilaterally cut off like this," ministry officials said.

South Korea has no immediate plans to send officials back to a joint economic office of the industrial complex at the North Korean border town of Kaesong unless the North promises to guarantee their safety and promises not to expel them in the future, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.

The North kicked them out after South Korea drastically slashed inter-Korean trade over the warship’s sinking.

Later Wednesday, North Korea sent messages expressing regret over South Korea’s decision not to send officials to the joint office in Kaesong. However, it proposed holding talks on the complex and a suspended joint tourism project — both in the border city — early next month, the Unification Ministry said in a statement.

Before November’s artillery barrage, the North also pushed for a resumption of tours to the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain resort. The tours were a rare legitimate source of hard currency for the impoverished country. South Korea stopped them in 2008 after a North Korean soldier fatally shot a South Korean tourist near the resort.

The Unification Ministry again dismissed the North’s offer, saying it wants talks where it can verify the North’s sincerity.

The North’s state media separately criticized South Korea for rejecting its latest dialogue overture earlier this week, calling it "intolerable, anti-national" behavior. A dispatch Wednesday by the Uriminzokkiri website said the North still wants talks with South Korea to promote peace.

The Korean peninsula is still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.


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