North Korea to meet for talks with South Korea after high tensions

On a day of escalating tensions and heated rhetoric on the Korean peninsula, the two sides agreed to meet Saturday at the historic "truce village" inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), South Korean officials said.
The high level talks will include, from the North, Kim Jong Un's deputy, Hwang Byeong Seo and Kim Yang Gon, a veteran of South Korean negotiations since Kim's father, Kim Jong-il ruled the secretive regime. South Korea's Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo and Kim Kwan-jin, the head of National Security, will also attend the meeting.
A South Korean presidential briefing stated that the North had specifically requested that the two officials attended.
The announcement comes after 48 hours of threats and counter-threats, which saw a brief exchange of artillery fire Thursday.
The resort area of Imjingak in Paju city, only seven kilometers (4 miles) from the DMZ, which is usually open to tourists, was closed Saturday, and an information phone line went unanswered when CNN called.
An employee who was driving around to ensure that the resort was empty of tourists said that authorities were evacuating people from this area because there was a danger of bombing.
North Korea: Stop "provocations"
Kim Jong Un's regime had declared Friday to its southern neighbor: Stop the "provocations" and "psychological warfare" or pay the price.
Before the talks were announced, North Korean UN Ambassador An Myong Hun told reporters: "If South Korea does not respond to our ultimatum … our military counteraction will be inevitable and that counteraction will be very strong."
As a result of the threats, residents in northern areas of South Korea, such as the district of Yeoncheon which neighbors the DMZ, were being urged to evacuate Saturday.
Threats almost normal, but this is pointed
North Korea's regime, known for being both thin-skinned and fond of saber rattling, has made plenty of threats before, and when it does, South Koreans mostly just go about life as usual.
South Korea is limiting the number of its citizens entering the joint industrial zone with the North, but the complex was still operating on Friday. There are currently 83 South Koreans in Pyongyang attending a youth soccer event.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said on Saturday that its troops on the border areas are on "regular position."
And Pyongyang's vitriol and insults about South Korea and the United States have been the norm for years.
But this case is more pointed than usual, as two South Korean soldiers were seriously wounded by landmines on August 4 in the Demilitarized Zone and there's been firing back-and-forth since then.
Ambassador An said Friday that "all the (North Korean) frontline large combined units entered into a wartime state … fully armed to launch any surprise operations and finish their preparations for action."
Specifically, this threat is tied to cross-border propaganda loudspeakers that South Korea resumed using last week for the first time in a decade. Pyongyang had demanded they be turned off by 4 pm local time (3 am ET) Saturday but, according to local media reports, they are continuing.
"The situation of the country is now inching closer to the brink of war," Ji Jae Ryong, North Korean ambassador to China, told journalists in Beijing on Friday.
US, South Korea exercises resume
South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo accused North Korea of pushing the tensions "to the utmost level."
"North Korea's offensive action is a despicable crime that breaks a ceasefire agreement and the nonaggression treaty between North and South," Han said Friday in an address broadcast on South Korean television.
"If North Korea continues on provoking, our military — as we have already warned — will respond sternly, and end the evil provocations of North Korea," he said, adding the country is working closely with the United States.
As the verbal sniping continued, the South's President, Park Geun-hye, visited troops at a base south of Seoul, receiving a briefing from military officials on the latest situation, her office said.
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."
Those exercises were suspended Thursday amid the war of words, US Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear told reporters. But they're now back on.
"We suspended part of the exercise temporarily in order to allow our side to coordinate with the ROK (Republic of Korea) side on the subject of the exchange fire across the DMZ," Shear said. "And the exercise is being conducted now according to plan."
During such exercises in the past, Pyongyang has escalated posturing, propaganda and threats to a fevered pitch.
North Korea calls broadcasts 'an open act of war'
South Korea and the US-led UN Command in Korea concluded that North Korea planted the mines that wounded the two South Korean soldiers on a patrol route in the southern part of the zone.
North Korea has denied responsibility and refused South Korean demands for an apology.
Seoul has since resumed its cross-border propaganda broadcasts, which North Korea called "an open act of war" and spurred it to threaten to blow up the speakers.
On Thursday, South Korean officials said the North fired artillery shells over the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two countries. A US official told CNN that North Korea was believed to be targeting a loudspeaker position.
The South fired back several dozen shells of its own, according to the Defense Ministry.
No casualties were reported by either side.

Related Articles

Back to top button