North and South Korean officials have met at a town on the heavily guarded border between the two countries in a bid to defuse tension days after a volley of cross-border artillery fire put their armed forces on high alert. North Korea threatened “indiscriminate attacks” over the broadcasts and slammed the U.S. and South Korea for starting annual joint military drills that the North calls a rehearsal for invasion.
Kim chaired an emergency meeting late on Thursday of the North’s powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) which endorsed the ultimatum for the South to switch off its propaganda unit loudspeakers by Saturday afternoon or face military action.
South Korea agreed when the North agreed to ensure Hwang would be present.
On Friday South Korean President Park Geun-Hye appeared on television, wearing army fatigues and telling top military commanders that further North Korean provocations “will not be tolerated”.
“That exercise was suspended temporarily, I believe the day before yesterday, in order to allow the U.S. side to coordinate with the South Korean side on the… exchange of artillery“, David Shear, assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, said at a news briefing.
South Korea probably couldn’t afford to walk away with a weak agreement after it had openly vowed to stem a “vicious cycle” of North Korean provocations amid public anger over the alleged land mine attack, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University.
The talks will not diminish the fierceness of the rhetoric between the two halves of Korea, but they may find a way for both sides to walk away safely from a unsafe situation before it explodes.
Tensions have risen after Pyongyang gave Seoul a deadline to dismantle loudspeakers broadcasting anti-North Korean propaganda across the border.
South Korea’s defence ministry insisted the loudspeakers would keep operating. It ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula still technically in a state of war.
About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea, with the US having retained bases following the end of the Korean War in 1953.
The meeting came at the request of North Korean officials in Pyongyang, according to reports.
North-South ties have been virtually frozen since the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship.
South Korean soldiers talk next to barricades at a checkpoint on the Grand Unification Bridge which leads to the truce village Panmunjom, just south of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, August 22, 2015.
The meeting was the first high-level dialogue between the Koreas since February 2014, apart from an informal meeting in October after Hwang and other North Korean officials made a surprise decision to attend the Asian Games in the South.
Pyongyang was mostly business as usual Friday morning, although propaganda vans with loudspeakers broadcast the state media line that the country was in a “quasi-state of war” to people in the streets.