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In landmark move, Seoul opens liaison office in North Korea

Youkyung Lee, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea opened a liaison office at an industrial park it sponsors in the North Korean city of Gaeseong on Friday, allowing rival officials to communicate around-the-clock for the first time since the start of the Korean War.

Seoul's Unification Ministry said more than 50 South Koreans crossed the border to Gaeseong to attend the opening ceremony. It said it hoped the new communication channel would ease tensions between the two countries, with an aim toward bringing about the denuclearization of the North.

The two Koreas agreed to open the liaison office during a historic April summit between their South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who are scheduled to meet for a third time next week in Pyongyang. The office is among the initiatives supported by Moon -- including August reunions between families separated by the 1950-53 war -- as he attempts to build on a rapprochement with Kim.

Some 15 to 20 South Koreans -- and a similar number of citizens from the North -- will staff the center on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the ministry said. Vice-minister Chun Hae-sung, a special envoy of Moon who met Kim last week, will be one of the office's two heads. Chun will hold a weekly meeting with his North Korean counterpart, whose name is not yet known, according to the ministry.

The Aug. 20 announcement of the office's establishment raised concerns in the U.S. about whether it would violate sanctions meant to penalize Pyongyang over its nuclear arsenal. But on Thursday, the United Nations Command said it had approved South Korean vehicles and personnel to cross the border into North Korea and begin constructing a communications center at the Gaeseong complex.

The UNC will continue to support the engagement between the Koreas, Gen. Vincent Brooks, its commander, said in a statement. Ensuring communication between two sides is "a way to prevent incidents or crises," he said.

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