Date
25 May 2017
South Korean National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin (right), South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo (second right) and other top officials shake hands during the inter-Korean high-level talks. Photo: Reuters
South Korean National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin (right), South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo (second right) and other top officials shake hands during the inter-Korean high-level talks. Photo: Reuters

North, South Korea ramp up talks amid high alert

North and South Korean officials held marathon talks overnight into Monday morning to try to ease tensions after an exchange of artillery fire brought the peninsula to the brink of armed conflict last week.

The rare and unusually long meeting at the Panmunjom truce village inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) began on Saturday evening, shortly after North Korea’s deadline for Seoul to stop anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts or face military action.

The talks are continuing, an official at South Korea’s presidential Blue House told Reuters.

The North had deployed twice the usual artillery strength at the border and had more than 50 submarines away from base, the South’s defense ministry said on Sunday.

South Korea, also on high alert, has said it had no plans to halt the propaganda broadcasts that triggered the latest standoff.

The envoys, shown on TV exchanging handshakes and tight smiles at the start of their meeting on Saturday, discussed ways to resolve tension and improve ties, the Blue House said in a brief statement early on Sunday.

“Both sides are under big pressure to get something out of this,” said Jeon Young-sun, professor at the Institute of the Humanities for Unification at Konkuk University in Seoul.

The talks took place in South Korea’s Peace House, just south of Panmunjom and the same venue where lower-level talks between the bitter rivals took place in February 2014 without agreement.

The negotiating session that began on Saturday was interrupted with breaks for both sides to consult with their respective governments and for snacks, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

North Korea and South Korea have remained technically in a state of war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, and inter-Korean relations have been in a deep freeze since the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship.

Pyongyang denied responsibility.

The current tensions began early this month when two South Korean soldiers were wounded by landmines along the border.

The North denies laying the mines. Days later, Seoul began its propaganda broadcasts in random three-hour bursts from 11 banks of loudspeakers, including news reports and K-pop music from the South, resuming a tactic both sides halted in 2004.

The crisis escalated on Thursday when the North fired four shells into the South, according to Seoul, which responded with a barrage of 29 artillery rounds.

North Korea declared a “quasi-state of war” in front-line areas and set an ultimatum for Seoul to halt its broadcasts.

That deadline passed on Saturday without any reported incident.

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CG/RA

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