South Korean soldiers stand guard at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Photo: iStock

South Korea welcomed a North Korean announcement that it would reopen a suspended communication hotline in the truce village of Panmunjeom in the De-militarized Zone between the two Koreas.

“The restoration of the hotline is very significant,” said Seoul’s Chief Presidential Press Secretary Yoon Young-chan, news agencies reported. “It creates an environment where communication will be possible at all times.”

The development comes two days after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent a conciliatory message to South Korea in his customary New Year’s speech, and one day after South Korea responded by proposing high-level talks between the two Koreas at Panmunjeom on Tuesday, Jan. 9, next week.

Seoul is hoping that a North Korean presence at the 2018 Winter Olympics, being held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, from Feb. 9-25, will provide a springboard for further inter-Korean communication and reconciliation, though Washington remains wary.

A North Korean official announced that the channel would be reopened in Panmunjeom at 3 p.m., Pyongyang time (06:30 GMT) today, on the orders of Kim, newswires reported.

The last significant inter-Korean contact at Panmunjeom took place in November 2015, when ministerial-level defense officials met to defuse tensions prompted by a landmine detonation and an alleged artillery strike from the North.

While the hotline has never been physically disconnected, it is understood that while South Korea makes twice-daily calls, the North Korean side has not picked up since February 2016, when Seoul decided to shutter the inter-Korea industrial complex in Kaesong.

Since them, communications have been problematic; following the daring defection of a North Korean soldier in Panmunjeom in November 2017, the Southern side communicated with the Northern side via loud hailers.

The hotline in the iconic village, with its blue huts and its sentries from North and South eyeballing each other across the painted Military Demarcation Line – the actual border that runs through the 4km-wide DMZ – is a key tool for inter-Korean communications.

The two Koreas do not recognize each other diplomatically, so have no embassies in each other’s capital. Other channels of communication that are sometimes used for inter-Korean communications are the Red Cross, and the respective North and South Korean missions to the United Nations in New York.

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