Koreas back from the brink
Face-saving agreement avoids more bloodshed on the border ... for now
SEOUL: After 40-plus hours of talks, North and South Korea have resolved their border crisis with an accord that allows both sides to save face and avert potential bloodshed.
In an artfully crafted, though vague, piece of diplomacy, Pyongyang expressed “regret” over the fact that two South Korean soldiers were maimed in a landmine blast.
While not an acknowledgment of responsibility, it allows Seoul to say it has received the apology it has demanded.
South Korea, for its part, agreed to halt anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts.
This will let the authoritarian North trumpet to its people a propaganda victory over its bitter rival and put an end to hated loudspeaker messages that outside analysts say may demoralise frontline troops and inspire them to defect.
The agreement is an im- portant first step in easing the animosity that has built since South Korea blamed North Korea for the mine explosion at the border earlier this month and restarted the propaganda broadcasts in retaliation.
But it is unclear how long the good mood will continue.
The accord does little to address the many major, longstanding differences the rivals still have. The two sides’ an- nouncement that they will hold further talks soon in either Seoul or Pyongyang could do that.
However, the Koreas have a history of failing to follow through on accords and allowing simmering animosity to interrupt diplomacy.
The talks that started on Saturday at the border village of Panmunjom, where the Koreas agreed to the 1953 ceasefire that stopped fighting in the Korean War, also resulted in Pyongyang agreeing to lift a “quasi-state of war” declared last week, according to South Korea’s presidential office and North Korea’s state media.
However this declaration was largely a matter of rhetoric.
The border is the world’s most heavily armed and there has never been a formal peace agreement ending the Korean War, so the area is always es- sentially in a “quasi-state of war”. There had been growing worry about South Korean reports that the North continued to prepare for a fight during the talks, moving unusual numbers of troops and submarines to the border.
The Koreas also struck an important humanitarian agreement by promising to resume in September the emotional reunions of families separated by the Korean War.