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South Korea seeks rare talks with North to ease military tensions

People watch a TV news program showing a file image of a missile being test-launched by North Korea, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, July 4, 2017
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
The South's defense ministry proposed a meeting to be held on Friday

South Korea on Monday offered to hold rare military talks with the North, aiming to ease tensions after Pyongyang tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

The offer of talks, the first since South Korea elected dovish President Moon Jae-In, came as the Red Cross in Seoul proposed a separate meeting to discuss reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

The South's defense ministry proposed a meeting to be held on Friday at the border truce village of Panmunjom, while the Red Cross offered to hold talks on August 1 at the same venue.

If the government meeting goes ahead, it will mark the first official inter-Korea talks since December 2015. Moon's conservative predecessor, Park Geun-Hye, had refused to engage in substantive dialogue with Pyongyang unless the isolated regime made a tangible commitment to de-nuclearization.

"We make the proposal for a meeting... aimed at stopping all hostile activities that escalate military tension along the land border," the defense ministry said in a statement. 

Kazuhiro NOGI (AFP)

The Red Cross said it hoped for "a positive response" from its counterpart in the North, hoping to hold family reunions in early October. If realized, they would be the first in two years.

Millions of families were separated by the conflict that sealed the division of the two countries. Many died without getting a chance to see or hear from their families on the other side of the heavily-fortified border, across which all civilian communication is banned. 

With the passage of time, the number of survivors has diminished, with only around 60,000 left in the South.

Moon, who took power in May, has advocated dialogue with the nuclear-armed North as a means of bringing it to the negotiating table as tensions soar over its weapons ambitions.

But Pyongyang has staged a series of missile launches in violation of UN resolutions, most recently on July 4 when it test-fired its first ICBM, a move which triggered global alarm and a push by President Donald Trump to impose harsher UN sanctions on the country.

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