October 21, 2009 / 3:45 AM / 10 years ago

South Korea to upgrade hotline equipment with North

SEOUL, Oct 21 (Reuters) - South Korea will install fibre optic cables to upgrade two hotlines with the reclusive North in the first project between the two sides since conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in Seoul in early 2008.

The project aimed to end years of frustration over communication failures caused by antiquated equipment, the South’s Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said on Wednesday.

President Lee ended a decade of unconditional handouts to North Korea by linking aid to nuclear disarmament, but a series of conciliatory gestures from Pyongyang have helped defrost ties and raised some hopes of a return to stalled international nuclear talks.

"We’ve had all kinds of inconvenience and disruptions because of the age and poor quality of the communications lines," spokeswoman Lee said, adding the North had asked for replacements for the copper phone lines.

One hotline mostly handles communication for the daily flow of workers and materials at a joint factory park in the North run by the South and the other is for a resort in the North, which is currently shut down, that is run by a South Korean company.

South Korea will provide the equipment and material needed to repair the hotlines and it is expected to take a few months to lay cables across the heavily mined border, Lee said.

The rival militaries also share a hotline.

North Korea, which faces chronic food shortages due to years of mismanaging its farm sector, last week appealed to the South to resume massive rice and fertiliser aid that was suspended after President Lee took office. [ID:nSP505526]

South Korea indicated it was prepared to resume small-scale food aid but has not set a specific plan to begin shipments. (Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Dean Yates)

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