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(6th LD) Koreas hold high-level talks amid tensions

2015/08/22 18:37

(ATTN: UPDATES with start of meeting; CHANGES headline)

SEOUL, Aug. 22 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea began crucial high-level talks, an official said Saturday, in a move to try to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula over Seoul's psychological warfare.

South Korean National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin met with Hwang Pyong-so, the North Korean military's top political officer, at the border village of Panmunjom, said the official of the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yang-gon, also joined the talks.

No details of the meeting were immediately available. No media is allowed to cover the talks under way inside the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas.

Hong plans to hold a briefing for reporters after the meeting.

The meeting was first proposed by North Korea on Friday before the two sides worked out the differences on the participants.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency also reported the meeting, but it did not provide any further details.

The meeting came an hour after the Pyongyang-set deadline for defusing the crisis passed.

On Thursday, North Korea gave a 48-hour ultimatum for South Korea to end propaganda broadcasts along the heavily fortified border and dismantle all loudspeakers, saying it otherwise will launch "a strong military action."

   North Korea also warned late Friday that it is prepared to engage in "all-out war."

   Despite the meeting, the militaries of the rival Koreas are on high alert for a possible clash over these broadcasts. It remains unclear whether the two sides can defuse the tension.

"Since North Korea could launch provocations even during an inter-Korean dialogue, our troops are maintaining their utmost readiness posture," a military official said.

The North Korean military is also staying on its ready-to-fire position along the border, another military official said, citing surveillance results.

"Front-line artillery troops have been detected moving out from bunkers and original bases to areas where prompt shooting is possible," the official said.

South Korea has vowed to continue the psychological warfare critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which Pyongyang claims insults its dignity.

The North has bristled at South Korea's propaganda campaign amid concerns that an influx of outside information could pose a threat to Kim.

Eight fighter jets -- four American F-16s and as many South Korean F-15Ks -- swept through South Korean skies earlier in the day in the latest show of force against North Korea, according to the South Korean military.

Fears of a military clash sent more than 3,700 South Korean residents near the border with North Korea scurrying for shelters.

The North's recent war rhetoric underscored the desperate attempt to protect what it calls the "dignity" of its young leader, Kim Jong-un.

South Korea has resumed the broadcasts along the border for the first time in 11 years in retaliation against North Korea for a recent land mine attack that left two South Korean soldiers severely injured.

South Korea accused the North of planting the mines inside the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, a charge denied by North Korea.

Separately, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se has cut short his visit to Costa Rica to deal with the escalating situation. Yun is to arrive in Seoul on early Sunday, a day ahead of schedule, according to the Foreign Ministry.