High level officials from the two Koreas are holding talks in a bid to ease tensions, after the passing of a North Korean-imposed deadline for the South, to halt loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts across the border.
They said that Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo of South Korea and Kim Yang-gon, a senior North Korean Workers’ Party secretary in charge of relations with the South, had also taken part.
South Korea, in turn, is asking the North to apologise for severe wounds inflicted on two South Korean army sergeants when they stepped on a mine on the southern side of the demilitarised zone.
No media organizations were present at the meeting in Panmunjom, a “truce village” inside the demilitarized zone, reported the BBC.
“The difficulty is that they can not even agree on the facts of the events which led to the current state of heightened tension”, wrote Steve Evans, BBC’s Korea correspondent.
One ongoing point of contention is South Korea’s joint military exercises with the United States – a regular training event that An contends aims to “occupy Pyongyang“. Pyongyang denies it planted the mines.
The meeting comes as a series of incidents, starting with the North’s alleged land mine attack that maimed two South Korean soldiers and the South’s resumption of anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts, raised fears that the conflict could spiral out of control. The North told the South it would take military action, forcing China to call both and urge them to step back.
Shear said the United States was “very concerned” by what he said was a violation of the 1953 Korea armistice agreement by North Korea.
The state of war has not yet been lifted at North Korean frontline combined units and the South Korean military is fully armed to deal with any provocations from the north.
Its government originally said the announcements would continue until the North admitted responsibility for landmine explosions earlier this month, which wounded two South Korean soldiers. North Korea regularly condemns the maneuvers as a preparation for war.
The worldwide community has long experience of North Korea’s particularly aggressive brand of diplomatic brinkmanship and, while there is concern over the potential for escalation, many see the situation as another exercise in attention-seeking by Pyongyang. According to Seoul, Pyongyang launched four shells across the border.
The North has bristled at South Korea’s propaganda campaign amid concerns that an influx of outside information could pose a threat to Kim.
“Our military and people are prepared to risk an all-out war not just to simply respond or retaliate, but to defend the system our people chose”, North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement on the official KCNA news agency, according to the South’s Yonhap news agency.
North Korea’s ambassador to Russian Federation has accused South Korea of lying about alleged North Korean artillery strikes and asked for the world’s help in defusing rapidly growing tensions between the two countries.