SEOUL: The history of the ‘hotline’ linking North and South Korea, that reopened Wednesday, reflects the turbulent ties between two countries which have been technically at war for over 60 years.
All telephone and other links were cut off when the three-year Korean War broke out in 1950 and sealed the division of the peninsula into communist north and capitalist south.
The hotline was agreed to as part of a 1972 joint communique between the two nations and went into operation in August that year.
A phone and a fax line were installed at the border truce village of Panmunjom, a traditional venue for occasional talks between the two sides — and a major tourist attraction on the southern side.
The North unilaterally cut the lines in 1976 when its troops wielding an axe murdered two US soldiers in a dispute over the trimming of a tree at Panmunjom — bringing the peninsula to the brink of war.
The lines were reopened in 1980 when the rivals agreed to open rare prime ministerial talks.
But they have been disconnected and reconnected several times since then, depending on the state of relations.
In 2010, when South Korea imposed trade sanctions against the North in protest against the sinking of the South’s Cheonan corvette, the North retaliated by announcing the stoppage of all communication links and exchanges with the South.
The hotlines were restored the following year but severed again in 2013 when tensions rose over the North’s third nuclear test.
In February 2016 the hotlines were terminated following a dispute over the jointly operated and now closed Kaesong industrial complex.
The 1950-53 conflict, in which millions died, ended with an armistice but without a peace treaty — leaving North and South technically at war ever since.
The North’s leader Kim Jong-un in a New Year speech extended an olive branch, suggesting his country might take part in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South.
Seoul in turn has proposed talks next Tuesday at Panmunjom.