The recent escalation in tensions began early this month, when landmine explosions in the DMZ wounded two South Korean soldiers.
In the early hours of Tuesday, North Korea and South Korea announced that they have reached a deal that will steer tensions away from the threat of military confrontation, with Pyongyang expressing regret over serious injuries suffered by two South Korean soldiers and Seoul agreeing to… switch off loudspeakers.
Both countries have also agreed to work towards a resumption of reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, a recurring point of contention.
It was the first time that North Korea has regretted about something in a written agreement with Seoul, which can be seen as an apology.
“It is very merciful to grab an opportunity for developing inter-Korean relations and preventing the recurrence of provocative acts through this round of high-level inter- governmental contact between the two Koreas”, Kim Kwan-jin, South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s chief security advisor, told a press briefing.
Inter-Korean relations have been all but frozen since the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship, which killed 46 sailors, that Seoul blames on the North. Pyongyang denies responsibility. South Korea resumed its loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the border in response to the blast.
The leafleting is sure to continue, as will the annual South Korea-US joint military exercises, which the North has always denounced and repeatedly cited as a motive for raising tensions.
“The more important point is maintaining this channel and reopening the relationship”.
South Korea and the United States are conducting a 12-day joint annual war game, which kicked off a week earlier, despite the DPRK ‘s denunciation of it as a rehearsal for northward invasion.
The late-night agreement came after marathon talks at the “truce village” of Panmunjom inside the demilitarised zone (DMZ).
But he said it was not the right time to push for a leaders’ summit.
The North agreed to end its “semi-state of war”, pulling back troops deployed to the frontline. In return, South Korea will stop broadcasting propaganda by the border. After decades of animosity and bloodshed, finding common ground is a challenge. But Welsh also said his concerns about North Korea had not changed drastically.
North Korea often makes conciliatory gestures to win concessions and aid from rivals after stoking tensions.
The tourism project began in 1998 during an era of warmer ties and was a legitimate source of hard currency for the cash-strapped North, but Seoul suspended the tours in 2008 following the shooting death of a South Korean tourist there.
As their top aides haggled in a three-storey building on the South Korean side of the heavily militarised border, proceedings were linked live by video to both the presidential Blue House in Seoul and to Pyongyang, South Korean officials briefed on the closed-door talks said.
South Korean defense officials said during the negotiations that about 70 percent of the North’s more than 70 submarines and undersea vehicles had left their bases and could not be located by the South Korean military.
North Korea also restarted its own loudspeakers, but reports suggest that quality was so bad that the messages were inaudible.