Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Friday expressed his support for fresh inter-Korean rapprochement during his first visit to the heavily-fortified border between the two Koreas.
"National division is not something that can be overcome overnight, it needs a long time," he said during a visit to the Joint Security Area (JSA) inside the Demilitarized Zone, where armed troops from both sides stand face to face.
"The South and the North should not stop the attempt to approach each other. It is important that they try that in the long-term with unfailing patience," he added.
His visit to the last Cold War frontier follows the restoration of talks between the two Koreas, in which the two sides have been arranging the North's participation in next month's PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
He was accompanied by his South Korean fiance, interpreter Kim So-yeon, as well as German Ambassador Stephan Auer, Cha Bum-kun, a former football star who played in Germany's Bundesliga league, and their wives.
"While in Seoul, it was hard to see South Korea is a divided country, but here it feels like a reality. It a whole new world apart from others," said Schroeder, a Social Democrat, who served as German chancellor from 1998 to 2005.
They toured Panmunjom, the truce village located across the inter-Korean border, where high-ranking officials from the two Koreas earlier in the month sat down and struck an agreement on the North's participation in the PyeongChang Olympics.
In the working-level meetings that followed, the two sides also agreed to hold cultural events and joint ski training before and during the Olympics.
This spawns hopes that the talks may help ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula after the North's barrage of military weapons tests escalated animosity last year.
Schroeder and those accompanying him were briefed on the latest security developments by officials from the United Nations Command, which is in charge of supervising the armistice. The two Koreas remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty.
In a press conference on Thursday, Schroeder and Kim announced their plan to get married this year.
Schroeder said he is looking forward to learning more about Korea and its history and culture through married life. (Yonhap)
Lee Sam-sun firstname.lastname@example.org