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North and South Korea began high-level talks on Wednesday at the border village of Panmunjeom to discuss a wide range of issues, including the reunions of families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War, South Korea's Unification Ministry said.
The talks are the first high-level meeting in seven years, with the last such forum held under the administration of late President Roh Moo Hyun.
"I will join the talks with an open attitude and mind to explore opportunities on beginning a new (era) on the Korean Peninsula," Kim Kyou Hyun, head of the South Korean delegation, told reporters.
He said a specific agenda has not been fixed in advance, but he will try to focus on holding the reunions of separated families as scheduled later this month.
Kim, a former South Korean vice foreign minister, was recently named as the head of the secretariat of the National Security Council at the presidential office, complying with Pyongyang's request to have a chief negotiator from Cheong Wa Dae.
The South Korean delegation is composed of officials from the presidential office, Unification Ministry and also Defense Ministry.
North Korea's delegation is led by Won Dong Yon, vice director of the United Front Department of the Workers' Party of Korea, a body that deals with ties between the two countries.
On Tuesday, South Korea's Unification Ministry announced the sudden arrangement of the inter-Korean talks, which will also be the first since the inauguration of President Park Geun Hye in February last year.
North Korea made an offer for the talks last Saturday and the South eventually agreed to accept it, a South Korean official said Tuesday.
The talks come amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula after South Korea and the United States announced earlier this week their annual combined military exercises will begin on Feb. 24 despite North Korea's demand that the exercises be cancelled.
In a statement, the Combined Forces Command said Key Resolve, a command post exercise, will be held through March 6, while Foal Eagle, a field training exercise, will be held through April 18.
North Korea has demanded the exercises be cancelled, calling them a rehearsal for invasion. South Korea and the United States say they are purely defensive in nature and have no connection to ongoing or current events.
Both of them will involve thousands of U.S. troops from outside South Korea along with those already in the country.
Last Wednesday, North Korea and South Korea agreed to resume reunions of families separated since the 1950-1953 Korean War on Feb. 20-25 at a resort at the North's Mt. Kumgang, but Pyongyang subsequently indicated the reunions might be cancelled if the military exercises go ahead.
The North's powerful National Defense Commission issued a statement Thursday saying "war exercises and racket for confrontation are incompatible with dialogue and reconciliation," while it also lashed out at the United States for flying a nuclear-capable B-52 bomber off the coast of the Korean Peninsula the previous day.
Last year, the two Koreas similarly agreed to hold family reunions, but just days before they were to start, North Korea postponed them, blaming South Korea's "war drills" for ruining the atmosphere.
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