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Two Koreas Agree to Hold Joint Events Amid Tensions

FILE - North Koreans stand together during a meeting in Pyongyang on June 15, 2012, to mark the 12th anniversary of the North-South Joint Declaration.

North and South Korea have agreed to hold a joint event next month to celebrate the anniversary of a landmark statement by the two countries, the South Korean preparatory committee for the event said Friday.

Representatives from the committee, composed of private groups, held rare talks with their North Korean counterparts in Shenyang, China, this week. The two sides agreed to hold the event in Seoul June 14-16 to mark the 15th anniversary of the so-called June 15 Declaration, a statement signed by leaders of the two Koreas during the 2000 inter-Korean summit.

The declaration said essentially that the issue of national reunification should be settled independently by the Korean nation itself.

The two sides also agreed to hold joint celebrations in August to mark the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule. Seoul and Pyongyang plan to hold a series of events between the two anniversaries.

Some analysts in Seoul raised concern that Pyongyang might use the events to advance propaganda. South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the government would allow events that could contribute to recovering “homogeneity” between two Koreas and improving inter-Korean ties.

Recently, Seoul has taken a series of conciliatory steps, including increasing humanitarian aid and easing restrictions on contacts with Pyongyang, but North Korea has been not receptive to the moves. This week’s agreement is seen as the first indication that Pyongyang might respond to Seoul’s gestures. However, some are still skeptical that Seoul’s efforts toward reconciliation will lead to meaningful progress in relations between Seoul and Pyongyang.

Hours before the announcement of the agreement on inter-Korean events, the North warned the South of a “strike without any prior warning,” claiming that South Korean naval ships had crossed into its waters repeatedly. The South dismissed the claim and issued its own warning against the North.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.