North and South Korean officials meet as tensions rise

Top officials of North and South Korea will hold meeting at Panmunjom truce village amid rising tensions

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

South Korean soldiers walk by barricades at a checkpoint on the Grand Unification Bridge which leads to the truce village Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, August 22, 2015.

High level officials from North and South Korea will be meeting at the Panmunjom truce village, just south of the demilitarized zone separating the two nations, at 0900 GMT on Saturday in a bid to ease tensions after North Korea threatened war over the cross-border propaganda broadcasts, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

"South Korea's National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo will meet with Kim Yang-gon, the top official in charge of South Korea affairs, and Hwang Pyong-so, director of the general political department of North Korea's military," Yonhap reported.

Military tensions between the two countries escalated when an exchange of artillery fire took place on Thursday, which the South says was initiated by the North. South Korean troops were on high alert on Saturday, following North Korea’s threatening gestures to go to war if the deadline was not met.

The North Korean foreign ministry gave a warning early on Saturday that said "the situation which has reached the brink of war is now hardly controllable."

Adding that North Korea is "prepared to risk an all-out war not just to simply respond or retaliate, but to defend the system our people chose."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is closely watching the current conflict and calling for restraint from both sides to avoid further escalation.

Pyongyang had set a 5pm (0830 GMT) deadline on Saturday for the loud speakers to end its broadcasts and be dismantled, but South Korea had so far refused to obey the request, Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett, reporting from Seoul, stated.

"We've had a statement from the South Korean defence minister, who said that while he places the highest priority on civilian lives, he also wants to sever what he calls the 'vicious cycle of North Korean provocations'", the Al-Jazeera correspondent reported.

The North Korean People's Army stated late on Friday that its frontline troops had moved into a "fully armed, wartime state" obeying the orders of Kim and following Saturday's 5pm deadline.

A couple of mine blasts earlier this month that heavily injured two South Korean border soldiers, had already ignited the 65 year old tension between the two nations, including the initiation last Monday of an annual South Korea-US military exercise that aggravated the North. There are 28,000 US troops in South Korea, plus another 3,000 for the annual exercise.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye stated that authorities have no intention of removing the loudspeakers, and on Friday she appeared on television informing top military commanders that further North Korean provocations "will not be tolerated".

No great sense of worry can be witnessed among South Korean citizens who have become largely accustomed to the North's regular threats of imminent war.

The 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a ceasefire that was never ratified by a formal peace treaty, this technically means that the two Korean countries have been at war for the last 65 years.

The most recent direct attack on the South by the Northern forces was in November 2010 when North Korea shelled the South’s border island of Yeonpyeong, claiming the lives of two civilians and two soldiers.


TRTWorld and agencies