Koreas re­sume talks as Seoul sees North Korean troop move­ment


Se­nior of­fi­cials from North and South Korea on Sun­day were in their sec­ond day of marathon talks meant to pull the ri­vals back from the brink, even amid re­ports of un­usual North Korean troop and sub­ma­rine move­ment that Seoul said in­di­cated con­tin­ued bat­tle prepa­ra­tion.

The first round of talks, which started Satur­day evening and fin­ished just be­fore dawn Sun­day, came to noth­ing, but the sec­ond day of diplo­macy has, for the time be­ing, pushed aside the heated warn­ings of im­mi­nent war.

These are the high­est-level talks be­tween the two Koreas in a year. And just the fact that se­nior of­fi­cials from coun­tries that have spent re­cent days vow­ing to de­stroy each other are sit­ting to­gether at a ta­ble in Pan­munjom, the bor­der en­clave where the 1953 ar­mistice end­ing fight­ing in the Korean War, is some­thing of a vic­tory.

The length of the first round of talks — nearly 10 hours — and the lack of im­me­di­ate progress are not un­usual. While the Koreas of­ten have dif­fi­culty agree­ing to talks, once they do, over­long ses­sions are of­ten the rule. Af­ter decades of an­i­mos­ity and blood­shed, how­ever, find­ing com­mon ground is much harder. Nei­ther side has dis­closed de­tails about the first round of talks. The sec­ond ses­sion started Sun­day af­ter­noon and stretched into the night.

The de­ci­sion to hold talks came hours ahead of a Satur­day dead­line set by North Korea for the South to dis­man­tle loud­speak­ers broad­cast­ing anti-Py­ongyang pro­pa­ganda at their bor­der. North Korea had de­clared that its front­line troops were in full war readi­ness and pre­pared to go to bat­tle if Seoul did not back down. South Korea said that even as the North was pur­su­ing di­a­logue, its troops were pre­par­ing for a fight.

An of­fi­cial from Seoul’s De­fense Min­istry said that about 70 per- cent of the North’s more than 70 sub­marines and un­der­sea ve­hi­cles had left their bases and were un­de­tectable by the South Korean mil­i­tary as of Satur­day.

North’s Sub­ma­rine, Ar­tillery

Beefed Up: Seoul

The of­fi­cial, who re­fused to be named be­cause of of­fice rules, also said the North had dou­bled the strength of its front-line ar­tillery forces since the start of the talks Satur­day evening.

The stand­off is the re­sult of a se­ries of events that started with the ex­plo­sions of land mines on the south­ern side of the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone be­tween the Koreas that Seoul says were planted by North Korea. The ex­plo­sions maimed two South Korean sol­diers on a rou­tine pa­trol. In re­sponse, the South re­sumed anti- Py­ongyang pro­pa­ganda broad­casts for the first time in 11 years, in­fu­ri­at­ing the North, which is ex­tremely sen­si­tive to any crit­i­cism of its au­thor­i­tar­ian sys­tem.

There was shock and worry Thurs­day af­ter South Korea’s mil­i­tary fired dozens of ar­tillery rounds across the bor­der in re­sponse to what Seoul said were North Korean ar­tillery strikes meant to back up an ear­lier threat to at­tack the loud­speak­ers. The North de­nies it was be­hind the land mines and the shelling, claims that Seoul calls non­sense.

The De­fense Min­istry of­fi­cial said the South con­tin­ued the an­tiPy­ongyang broad­casts even af­ter the start of the talks Satur­day and also af­ter the sec­ond ses­sion be­gan Sun­day. He said Seoul would de­cide af­ter the talks whether to halt the broad­casts.

While the meet­ing of­fered a way for the ri­vals to avoid an im­me­di­ate col­li­sion, an­a­lysts in Seoul won­dered whether the coun­tries were stand­ing too far apart to ex­pect a quick agree­ment.

In Py­ongyang, North Korean state media re­ported that more than 1 mil­lion young peo­ple have vol­un­teered to join or re­join the mil­i­tary to de­fend their coun­try should a con­flict break out.

De­spite such highly charged rhetoric, which is not par­tic­u­larly un­usual, ac­tiv­ity in the North’s cap­i­tal re­mained calm on Sun­day, with peo­ple go­ing about their daily rou­tines. Truck­loads of sol­diers singing mar­tial songs could oc­ca­sion­ally be seen driv­ing around the city, and a sin­gle mini­van with cam­ou­flage net­ting was parked near the main train sta­tion as the talks with the South went on.

Through­out the day, large crowds of peo­ple were mo­bi­lized to prac­tice mass ac­tiv­i­ties for the Oct. 10 an­niver­sary of the found­ing of the rul­ing Work­ers Party 70 years ago. As night fell, in­stead of anx­iously await­ing the out­come of the talks, many Py­ongyang res­i­dents were riv­eted to tele­vi­sions in public places to watch the de­but of the “Boy Gen­eral” car­toon show, which has been re­vamped for the first time in five years at the or­der of Kim Jong Un.


South Korean marines pa­trol on Yeon­pyeong is­land, Korea, Sun­day, Aug. 23.

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