Two Koreas rule out high-level talks this week

North Korean soldiers stand guard at the border of the demilitarised zone (DMZ) at Panmunjon. The concrete slab across the centre of the photo represents the border and anything beyond that is South Korea's territory. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
North Korean soldiers stand guard at the border of the demilitarised zone (DMZ) at Panmunjon. The concrete slab across the centre of the photo represents the border and anything beyond that is South Korea's territory. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

SEOUL (AFP) - North and South Korea on Wednesday effectively ruled out the resumption of high-level talks this week, with each side accusing the other of undermining an agreement to get the suspended dialogue going again.

The two Koreas had decided earlier this month to restart the talks by early November, with South Korea proposing a meeting at the border truce village of Panmunjom on Thursday.

The North has since insisted that Seoul must first take steps to ban the practice of South Korean activists launching balloons with anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

Pyongyang's top military body, the National Defence Commission, repeated the demand in a message sent to President Park Geun Hye's office on Wednesday morning.

"The North said... it was our choice whether to hold the high-level talks or to allow launching of leaflets," Seoul's unification ministry spokesman Lim Byeong Cheol.

Seoul argues that it has no legal grounds to stop the launches.

"We express our regret that holding the proposed talks on October 30... has become practically unlikely," Lim said, while stressing that the decision to resume the dialogue still stood.

"The agreement is still valid... but the North should make a proposal for a date first," Lim said.

The last round of high-level talks was held in February and resulted in the North hosting a rare reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

The agreement to restart the dialogue came during a surprise visit to the South by a top-ranking North Korean delegation in early October.

The rare trip fuelled hopes of a thaw, but was followed by a series of minor military clashes along the heavily fortified border that raised tensions.

The isolated North has constantly bristled at the launch of the leaflets, which slam the ruling Kim family and urge its people to rise up against leader Kim Jong Un.

Two weeks ago, North Korean border guards attempted to shoot down some balloons, triggering a brief exchange of heavy machine gun fire between the two sides.