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South Korea agrees to humanitarian talks with North Korea

By the CNN Wire Staff
A North Korean soldier (C) and a South Korean soldier (R) stand guard in the Demilitarized Zone on January 19.
A North Korean soldier (C) and a South Korean soldier (R) stand guard in the Demilitarized Zone on January 19.
  • NEW: The proposed Red Cross talks are used to facilitate reunions and transfer aid
  • NEW: Officials meet for Day 2 of working-level military talks
  • There was an amicable mood among officials in front of cameras
  • The working-level military talks are being held at the truce village of Panmunjom

(CNN) -- South Korea agreed in principal to hold humanitarian talks with North Korea, as the two sides resumed working-level military meetings Wednesday, South Korea's government said.

The so-called Red Cross talks are used to facilitate reunions for families separated by the Korean War and for the North to receive humanitarian aid such as rice and fertilizer from Seoul.

The South Korean Unification Ministry said the government agreed in principle to the talks in response to requests from Pyongyang earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the first inter-Korean dialogue in months continued for the second day Wednesday at the truce village of Panmunjom, the South Korean Defense Ministry said.

Meetings on Tuesday began at 10 a.m. and four rounds of talks were held through the day, said the ministry.

There was an air of friendliness when colonel-level officials from both countries appeared before cameras, though the representatives struggled to make headway in the talks.

"Little progress was made at today's working-level military talks, but the two sides agreed to resume the talks as of 10 a.m. on Wednesday," said Kim Min-seok, a Defense Ministry spokesman, South Korea's official Yonhap news agency reported.

The agency said the talks, which stretched for more than nine hours Tuesday, are aimed "at setting the date, place and agenda for higher-level talks, possibly at the level of defense ministers."

The meeting signals a change in tone after tensions between the two sides escalated sharply last year, but higher-level military talks will be held only if the North promises to refrain from further provocations, the South has said.

The preliminary talks are led by Col. Moon Sang-gyun of the South and Col. Ri Son-kwon of the North, who have served before "as representatives for working-level military talks from each side for years," Yonhap reported.

The South demanded that Pyongyang take responsibility for last year's military provocations and promise not to carry out any more attacks, Yonhap reported Kim said. The Seoul government also has proposed holding inter-Korean talks between high-ranking government officials to discuss denuclearization, something the North has not yet responded to.

Last month, South Korea's Unification Ministry said it had reopened communication channels with North Korea in the border area of Panmunjom.

It was the first time in eight months the two sides had reopened the hot line. North Korea cut it off May 26 to protest Seoul's response to the March sinking of a South Korean naval ship.

South Korea has blamed North Korea for the attack, which killed 46 sailors. Pyongyang denies involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan.

Tension rose again in November, when North Korea shelled South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians.

Pyongyang said the strike was in response to the South's navy firing into North Korean waters.

"We emphasized that North Korea's responsible measures for the torpedo attack of the Cheonan warship and the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island are a precondition to discuss other issues," Kim said, as reported by Yonhap.

The North argued in meetings Tuesday that demanding the talks be restricted to the Cheonan sinking and the attack on Yeonpyeong Island is "the equivalent of refusing to hold higher-level military talks," the South Korean Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The two sides also disagreed over who would lead the higher-level talks, as the South wants the defense ministers or the countries' Joint Chiefs of Staff to meet while the North wants deputy-level talks, the statement said.

CNN's Paula Hancocks and Jiyeon Lee contributed to this report.