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N. Korea reopens border hotline

Visitors look through a telescope during a visit to the Imjingak peace park near the Demilitarised Zone that divides the two Koreas. (AFP)

Seoul: North Korea reopened a border hotline with South Korea on Wednesday, restoring a channel of direct dialogue and signalling a possible thaw in relations between the two Koreas after years of hair-trigger tensions.

The return of the telephone hotline at the village of Panmunjom, which straddles the Demilitarised Zone, the world's most heavily guarded border, came two days after North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, made a rare overture to the South.

In his New Year's Day speech on Monday, Kim continued his nuclear threat against Washington, saying he had a "nuclear button" ready to launch a weapon against any target in the US. But he also proposed negotiations with South Korea to discuss easing military tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula and his country's possible participation in the Winter Olympics, which are being held in the South Korean town of Pyeongchang next month.

The fast-moving political developments have given new hope for a warming of ties between the two longstanding enemies.

On Tuesday, South Korea's President, Moon Jae-in, who has called for dialogue with the North since his inauguration in May, quickly embraced Kim's offer of talks. His government proposed that high-level negotiators from both Koreas meet at Panmunjom next Tuesday to discuss the North's Olympic participation.

Seizing on Kim's outreach, South Korea also urged the North on Tuesday to reopen the Panmunjom hotline so that both sides could start preparations for high-level talks, a proposal the North embraced on Wednesday.

"We will connect with the South with a sincere and diligent attitude," Ri Son-kwon, a senior North Korean official, said Wednesday in a statement on state-run television, announcing the hotline's reopening.

"We once again express our sincere hope that the Pyeongchang Olympics will be successful."

New York Times News Service

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