Two Koreas hold high-level military talks: Report

A South Korean soldier at the north-facing entrance to Freedom House, beside the military demarcation line seperating North and South Korea within the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom on July 27, 2014. North and South Korea held their first hig
A South Korean soldier at the north-facing entrance to Freedom House, beside the military demarcation line seperating North and South Korea within the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom on July 27, 2014. North and South Korea held their first high-level military talks for seven years at the border truce village on Wednesday. -- PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - North and South Korea held senior-level military talks on Wednesday to air grievances over a series of recent live-fire incidents on their land and maritime borders, Seoul’s Defence Ministry said.

Government officials and officers up to the rank of general met for five hours at the border truce village of Panmunjom in what media reports described as the highest-level military exchange between the two rivals for seven years.

The talks followed a rare incident on Friday on the heavily-fortified land border, in which both sides traded heavy machine-gun fire after the North’s military tried to shoot down some leaflet-laden balloons launched by South Korean anti-Pyongyang activists. There were no reported casualties. Last Tuesday, North and South Korean naval patrol boats briefly exchanged warning fire near their disputed Yellow Sea border, which has been the site of numerous clashes in the past.

Briefing reporters, Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said the North side at the talks had accused South Korean vessels of making incursions into their territorial waters, and urged Seoul to prevent further propaganda balloon launches. “Our side clarified our position that North Korea should respect (the maritime boundary) ... and that as a democratic nation, we cannot regulate balloon launches by civilian groups,” Mr Kim said.

No date was set for a further round of talks, he added.

The South’s defence and unification ministries had both initially declined to confirm the talks after Mr Kim said both sides had agreed to not publicise the event.

Because the 1950-1953 Korean conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a treaty, the two Koreas remain technically at war.

The North has repeatedly called on South Korea to prevent activists launching leaflets across the border, and warned of dire consequences if it fails to do so.

Seoul says it has urged the activists to exercise self-restraint, but stresses that it has no legal grounds for banning the launches outright.

The military talks were an apparent effort to lower the risk of any armed escalation, especially ahead of the planned resumption of a high-level dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang that has been suspended for eight months.

The South’s Yonhap news agency on Wednesday cited a government official as saying Seoul had proposed the dialogue should begin on Oct 30.

The last round in February resulted in the North hosting a rare reunion of families separated by the Korean War.