August 23, 2015

Senior military officials of Koreas meet again on Sunday after 10-hour session to defuse escalating tensions.

The first high-level talks in nearly a year between South Korea and North Korea have resumed on the border after a marathon meeting between senior military officials who have been pushed to the brink of confrontation.

The talks started at 3.30pm local time (06:30 GMT) on Sunday, after a 10-hour meeting adjourned at 4.15am, the South Korean president’s office reported.

The rivals, who are trying to defuse mounting tensions, began meeting in the border village of Panmunjom on Saturday night.

The South Korean presidential office said that the country’s national security director, Kim Kwan-jin, and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo were conducting the talks with Hwang Pyong So, the top political officer for the Korean People’s Army, and Kim Yang Gon, a senior North Korean official responsible for South Korean affairs.

Hwang is considered by outside analysts to be North Korea’s second most important official after its leader Kim Jong Un.

Deadline

The meeting follows a Saturday deadline set by North Korea demanding that South Korea dismantle loudspeakers broadcasting anti-North Korean propaganda at the countries’ border or it would initiate military action.

South Korea said it would continue its broadcasts until North Korea apologised for an incident earlier this month in which two South Korean soldiers were seriously injured in a landmine explosion in the southern part of the demilitarised zone.

In response to the landmine, South Korea restarted using loudspeakers for anti-Pyongyang propaganda, and the North responded in kind.

The dispute escalated on Thursday when North Korea shelled a South Korean military unit on the western section of the inter-Korean border, a move which the South’s military retaliated.

Then on Friday, North Korea declared its front-line troops were in full war readiness and prepared to go to battle if Seoul refused to back down.

The South ordered the evacuation of thousands of residents along the border ahead of North Korea’s Saturday deadline.

High alert

Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Seoul, said while both militaries remained on high alert, the fact that the meeting would resume was “an encouraging sign, especially as these are very senior people involved”.

“They have a lot of ground to cover to get to common ground but there are senior people on both sides now talking rather than threatening across the border,” our correspondent said.

He said that South Korea continued to broadcast from its loudspeakers as the talks went on.

On Saturday, North Korean media reportedly said more than one million young people had volunteered to join or rejoin the military to defend their country should a conflict break out with their southern rival.

The AP news agency reported that people in Pyongyang were going about their daily routines as normal.