South Korea turns off propaganda as Koreas reach deal

2015-08-25 07:25
Military guard posts of South Korea (bottom) and North Korea (top) stand opposite each other as seen from in the border city of Paju. (Jung Yeon-Je, AFP)

Military guard posts of South Korea (bottom) and North Korea (top) stand opposite each other as seen from in the border city of Paju. (Jung Yeon-Je, AFP)

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Seoul - After 40-plus-hours of talks, North and South Korea on Tuesday pulled back from the brink with an accord that allows both sides to save face and, for the moment, avert the bloodshed they've been threatening each other with for weeks.

In a carefully crafted, though vague, piece of diplomacy, Pyongyang expressed "regret" that two South Korean soldiers were maimed in a recent land mine blast Seoul blamed on the North.

While not an acknowledgement of responsibility, let alone the "definite apology" South Korea's president had demanded, it allows Seoul to claim some measure of victory in holding the North to account.

South Korea, for its part, halted anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts on the border, which will let the authoritarian North trumpet to its people a propaganda win over its bitter rival, and put an end to broadcasts that outside analysts say could demoralize front-line troops and inspire them to defect.

The agreement marks a good first step in easing 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, as always on the Korean Peninsula, it's unclear how long the good mood will continue.

Despite South Korean President Park Geun-hye's expression of hope that the North's "regret" will help improve the Koreas' relationship, the accord does little to address the many fundamental, long-standing differences.

The announcement of further talks to be held soon in either Seoul or Pyongyang could be a beginning, but the Koreas have a history of failing to follow through on their promises and allowing simmering animosity to interrupt diplomacy.

Humanitarian

The negotiations that began 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.

While 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 essentially 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.

They said more reunions would follow, but there were no immediate details. The next round of reunions could take place as early as October, considering the preparation time needed to match relatives and agree on a venue, said an official from Seoul's Unification Ministry, who didn't want to be named, and citing office rules.

In a signal of North Korea's seriousness, Pyongyang sent to the talks Hwang Pyong So, the top political officer for the Korean People's Army and considered by outside analysts to be North Korea's second most important official after supreme leader Kim Jong Un.

"I hope the two sides faithfully implement the agreements and build up [mutual] confidence through a dialogue and co-operation and that it serves as a chance to work out new South-North relations," chief South Korean negotiator and presidential national security director Kim Kwan-jin said in a televised news conference.

The United States quickly welcomed the agreement and the prospect of tensions dropping.

Kim, the Seoul negotiator, described the North's expression of "regret" as an apology and said the loudspeaker campaign would end at noon on Tuesday unless an "abnormal" event occurs.

Read more on:    south korea  |  north korea  |  war  |  security

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