South Korean President Park Geun-hye yesterday demanded that North Korea apologize over recent landmine blasts, even as the rivals held marathon talks to defuse tensions that have brought the peninsula back to the brink of armed conflict.
Park said anti-North propaganda broadcasts would continue unless Pyongyang took responsibility for landmine explosions earlier this month that wounded two South Korean soldiers in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two countries.
North Korea denies it laid the mines.
“We need a clear apology and measures to prevent a recurrence of these provocations and tense situations,” Park told a meeting with her top aides, according to a statement released by her office. “Otherwise, this government will take appropriate steps and continue loudspeaker broadcasts.”
Seoul and Washington were reviewing the possibility of bringing in “strategic” US military assets, South Korean Ministry of Defense spokesman Kim Min-seok said, without elaborating.
Two years ago, North Korea threatened military action in response to annual exercises by US and South Korean forces, leading to a standoff during which US stealth bombers flew over South Korea and an aircraft carrier was sent to the area.
“Our position at this point is to deter the North’s provocation,” Kim told a news briefing. “But if they wage provocation, our response will be merciless and they will truly feel sorry.”
North Korea had deployed twice the usual artillery strength at the border and had about 50 submarines away from base, the ministry said.
North Korea’s state media has kept up its anti-South rhetoric as the talks continued at the Panmunjom truce village inside the DMZ. The North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said 1 million young people had volunteered to join or rejoin the army, an assertion impossible to verify.
Park yesterday cited a story that two South Korean soldiers had delayed their discharges and South Korea’s army said about 50 soldiers had taken the same step.
“I think that kind of patriotism can protect our country, setting an example for young people,” she said.
Despite the tensions, daily life proceeded largely as normal on Monday in South Korea.
The negotiations began on Saturday evening, shortly after North Korea’s deadline passed for Seoul to halt the anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts or face military action. They broke up before dawn on Sunday and restarted that afternoon.
Chung Young-chul, a North Korea expert at Sogang University’s Graduate School of Public Policy in Seoul, said Park’s strong words may indicate a lack of progress, although other observers said the unusual length of the talks bodes well.
“I am not really optimistic about the talks because they both have heavy demands that can’t be dropped,” Chung said. “It seems difficult to get any agreement and I think they are locking horns and tension will persist for a while.”
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