PANMUNJOM -- Unification Minister Lee In-young on Wednesday called on North Korea to restore suspended communication channels between the two Koreas in a move to achieve a thaw in inter-Korean relations.
He also expressed hope of rebuilding the now-demolished inter-Korean joint liaison office, as well as resuming reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
Lee’s remarks came during the ceremony for the opening of the tourism support center at Panmunjom to mark the resumption of tours to the southern side of the demilitarized border village. They had been suspended for more than a year due to an outbreak of African swine fever. Located inside the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, Panmunjom, or the Joint Security Area, is where the armistice that ended the Korean War was signed.
“I hope the communications line between the South’s Freedom House and the North’s Panmungak that remains unresponsive will be restored,” Lee said. “I hope the joint liaison office will be restored promptly and put back in operation.”
In June Pyongyang demolished the liaison office in its border town of Kaesong and cut all cross-border communication lines, retaliating for the launch of anti-Pyongyang leaflets over the inter-Korean border by civic groups in the South. The North has not responded to Seoul’s calls for the resumption of communications.
Lee also urged the North to allow people from both sides to move around freely in Panmunjom, as agreed in the inter-Korean military deal signed in 2018.
He expressed hope that the separated families could meet in Panmunjom. “If it is difficult (for the families to meet) immediately due to the COVID-19 situation, the family reunion must be carried out through holding video meetings or an exchange of letters.”
Tours of the Joint Security Area and other sites inside the Demilitarized Zone opened on a trial basis Wednesday with a limited number of visitors, after having been halted in October last year to stem the spread of African swine fever along the inter-Korean border. It will officially open to the public on Friday.
Unlike in the past, when tours were available only to large groups, parties of up to five people can register for the visits. Applications must be made two weeks in advance through the website http://www.panmuntour.go.kr
The Unification Ministry said there have been no cases of the animal disease since June in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, the border city to which the village belongs. The authorities have vowed to take the necessary precautions at the tour sites, including disinfecting vehicles and checking visitors’ temperatures.
By Ahn Sung-mi and Joint Press Corps (email@example.com