(AA) – South Korea’s Prime minister insisted Thursday that Seoul still wants high-level talks with North Korea – despite an increasingly hostile tone from Pyongyang and claims that the North’s authoritarian regime has carried out dozens of executions this year.
“We urge North Korea to come forward for inter-Korean talks in a sincere manner by trusting our commitment to dialogue,” Chung Hong-wo told onlookers at the annual Seoul Defense Dialogue.
The forum also featured a video message by South Korean President Park Geun-hye, during which she stressed that the region “desperately” needs dialogue and cooperation.
A day earlier, local news agency Yonhap reported that Seoul’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) revealed to lawmakers that Pyongyang is thought to have executed around 50 people by firing squad this year.
Among them, ten Workers’ Party officials are believed to have been the victims of a purge linked to the execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s own uncle last year – but the NIS also reportedly pointed to crimes such as “womanizing” and “watching South Korean soap operas.”
Later Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki described the allegations as potentially another example of Pyongyang’s “extreme brutality.”
With North Korea’s human rights currently under the United Nations’ spotlight, Seoul has been seeking direct talks with Pyongyang.
The two Koreas had looked set for a meeting by early next month based on an agreement reached when the North’s effective second-in-command Hwang Pyong-so made a surprise visit to the South nearly four weeks ago.
Since then relations have soured, amid multiple exchanges of fire along their land and sea border – which has been closely guarded since a ceasefire brought the 1950-53 Korean War to a close.
After sidestepping a deadline set by Seoul earlier this week, Pyongyang also lambasted South Korea’s decision to postpone indefinitely its planned takeover of full military control from the U.S. next year.
“By delaying the OPCON [operational control] transfer, Seoul showed its intent to fuel inter-Korean hostilities and play along with Washington’s ploy to start a war with the North and control the Peninsula forever,” read a press release by the North’s Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea released Wednesday.