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North and South Korea to hold first talks in two years

In what will be the first official talks between the two nations since February 2011, North and South Korea have agreed to hold discussions at the border village of Panmunjom on Sunday - the latest sign tensions on the Korean Peninsula are easing.


North and South Korea will meet for working-level discussions at a border village on Sunday, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said, in what will be the first official talks between the rivals in more than two years.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have eased in the past month, having run high for several weeks after the United Nations toughened sanctions against North Korea following its third nuclear test in February.

In another sign of easing tensions, the North reopened a Red Cross hotline with South Korea on Friday.

Sunday’s talks will set the mood for a ministerial-level meeting scheduled for next week. The two Koreas have not held talks since February 2011.

Pyongyang agreed on Saturday to the South’s proposal to meet at the Panmunjom truce village, two days after it had proposed discussions to normalise commercial projects, including a shuttered joint industrial zone.

In early April, North Korea withdrew its 53,000 workers at the Kaesung Industrial Zone and suspended operations. South Korea pulled out all of its workers from the zone in early May.

After Pyongyang first proposed talks this week, Seoul responded by inviting the North to cabinet-level talks on June 12 in Seoul as a way to discuss a range of issues including commercial projects and families split during the 1950-53 Korean War.

The announcement of this weekend’s talks came as Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping began a summit meeting on Friday in California, with the situation on the Korean Peninsula likely to be high on the agenda for the two world leaders.

Ties between Beijing and Washington have been buffeted in recent months by strains over differing policy on North Korea, as well as issues such as human rights and each country's military intentions.

Obama will be looking to build on growing Chinese impatience with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programmes, a shift that could bring Beijing - the closest thing Pyongyang has to an ally - closer to Washington's position.

Meanwhile, the UN food body on Saturday said it has approved $200 million of food aid for North Korea, targeting the country's most vulnerable people who remain dependent on external assistance.

The World Food Programme (WFP) executive board has this week approved a new two-year operation for North Korea starting on July 1, WFP spokesman Marcus Prior said.

"It will target about 2.4 million people - almost all children, and pregnant and nursing women - with about 207,000 metric tons of food assistance at a cost of US$200 million," he said in an email to AFP.

Nearly 28 percent of children under five in North Korea suffer from chronic malnutrition and four percent are acutely malnourished, according to a UN national nutrition survey last year.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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