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Saturday, August 22, 2015, 18:31

ROK, DPRK hold high-level talks

By Agencies

ROK, DPRK hold high-level talks
ROK army's armored vehicle moves in Yeoncheon, south of the demilitarized zone, Aug 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL - High-level talks between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Republic of Korea (ROK) have begun in an effort to defuse mounting tensions that have pushed the rivals to the brink of a possible military confrontation.

An official from ROK’s Unification Ministry, who didn't want to be named because of office rules, says Saturday's talks are being held at the border village of Panmunjom.

The meeting comes after a Saturday deadline set by the DPRK for the ROK to dismantle loudspeakers broadcasting anti-DPRK propaganda at their border. The DPRK has declared its front-line troops are in full war readiness and prepared to go to battle if Seoul doesn't back down.

The ROK presidential office said earlier that the country's national security director, Kim Kwan-jin, and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo would sit down with Hwang Pyong-so, the top political officer for the Korean People's Army, and Kim Yang-gon, a senior DPRK official responsible for ROK affairs. Hwang is considered by outside analysts to be the DPRK’s second most important official after supreme leader Kim Jong-un.

Tension on the Korean peninsula has been running high since an exchange of artillery fire on Thursday, prompting calls for calm from China, the United Nations and the United States . The ROK's military remained on high alert despite the announced talks, a defense ministry official said earlier Saturday.

"The South and the North agreed to hold contact related to the ongoing situation in South-North relations," Kim Kyou-hyun, the ROK presidential Blue House's deputy national security adviser, said in a televised briefing.

Pyongyang made an initial proposal on Friday for a meeting, and Seoul made a revised proposal on Saturday seeking Hwang's attendance, Kim said.

"They need to come up with some sort of an agreement where both sides have saved face. That would be the trick," said James Kim, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

"North Korea will probably demand that the broadcasts be cut, and they may even come to an impasse on that issue."

The DPRK, technically still at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, had declared a "quasi-state of war" in front-line areas and set the deadline for Seoul to halt the broadcasts from loudspeakers placed along the border.

"The situation on the Korean peninsula is now inching close to the brink of a war due to the reckless provocations made by the ROK military war hawks," the North's KCNA news agency said earlier.

Seoul had said it would continue the broadcasts unless the North accepted responsibility for landmine explosions this month in the DMZ that wounded two ROK soldiers. Pyongyang denies it planted the mines.

ROK Vice Defence Minister Baek Seung-joo said on Friday his government expected the DPRK to fire at some of the 11 sites where Seoul has set up loudspeakers.

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