Thursday 24 May 2018

North and South Korea considering peace treaty that could end 65-year conflict

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during unofficial visit to Beijing last month
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during unofficial visit to Beijing last month

Nicola Smith and Ben Riley-Smith

South and North Korea are said to be discussing plans to announce an official end to their 65-year-old military conflict at a landmark summit next Friday - only the third inter-Korean summit of its kind.

Citing an unnamed official in Seoul, the 'Munhwa Ilbo' newspaper said a joint statement may be released during the meeting between Moon Jae-in, the South's president, and the North's Kim Jong-un, pledging to seek to ease military tension and end confrontation.

If confirmed, it would be a significant political step in the rapidly warming ties since the start of this year.

The two nations are still technically at war as a peace treaty was never signed to replace the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War, and tensions last year over Pyongyang's advancing nuclear and weapons programme led to fears that military conflict was inevitable.

Mr Moon yesterday reaffirmed his resolve to establish permanent peace on the Korean peninsula, saying that denuclearisation of the North was a first priority.

Im Jong-seok, Mr Moon's chief of staff, yesterday said Mr Kim was committed to denuclearising the peninsula and had expressed a willingness to meet US President Donald Trump.

Mr Moon was attended a Buddhist service of about 900 people who had gathered at a Seoul hotel to pray for its success.

"The complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula is the most urgent task that lies before us and a task we must complete ­peacefully," he said.

"I ask you to pray with a sincere hope to remove confrontation and division," said Mr Moon.

The two leaders will meet at Panmunjom on the highly militarised border zone that separates the two countries, close to the site where a young North Korean soldier was shot during a dramatic dash for freedom at the end of last year.

Intense preparations are under way for the first inter-Korean summit in over a decade, and the first time a North Korean leader has ever stepped foot on the South's soil.

South Korean security officials may visit North Korea to finalise details ahead of the first summit since 2007.

A direct telephone hotline is expected to be functional later this week. Next week's negotiations will pave the way for an even more extraordinary face-to-face encounter between Mr Kim and the US president, scheduled for late May or early June.

The summit comes as the number of North Korean refugees finding safety in the South has dropped sharply this year. Only 192 refugees made it south in the first quarter, 31pc down on the same period in 2017, a year that overall saw the lowest annual figures of escapees since 2001.

Mr Trump yesterday hosted Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida for a two-day visit.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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