'No let-up' in propaganda barrage

South Korean soldiers setting up a multiple launch rocket system yesterday in Yeoncheon. Despite the military activity, civilian life in the South remains unchanged, with many immune to the North's recurring threats.
South Korean soldiers setting up a multiple launch rocket system yesterday in Yeoncheon. Despite the military activity, civilian life in the South remains unchanged, with many immune to the North's recurring threats.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Little progress in talks as S. Korean leader demands apology from North for mine blasts

South Korean President Park Geun Hye has vowed to continue the loudspeaker propaganda unless Pyongyang apologises for recent landmine blasts, as a third day of talks to defuse North-South tensions made little headway.

"Even if North Korea escalates provocations with threats as it has in the past, we must never back down," Ms Park said in a meeting with her aides yesterday .

She demanded a clear apology from the North, without which her government will "take measures corresponding to their actions and maintain the ongoing loudspeaker broadcasts", she said according to her office website.

The two Koreas exchanged artillery fire and beefed up their border defence last week, after the South accused the North of secretly planting landmines that injured two South Korean soldiers earlier this month. Pyongyang has denied the charge.

"The government will strongly punish the North for any kind of provocation. However, if the ongoing talks go well, we will do our best to work for peace on the Korean Peninsula in a win-win manner," said Ms Park.

Her comments came as top officials from both sides resumed marathon talks that began last Saturday. Negotiations were under way at the House of Peace on South Korea's side of the border, but there was little progress, according to local media reports. No details were given.

Ms Park's hardline stance has worked in her favour, pushing her approval rating up to above 40 per cent for the first time in three months as conservatives rallied around her amid the standoff. A poll conducted last week by Realmeter showed that her rating has risen to 41 per cent, up from 39.9 per cent the previous week.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se admitted yesterday that it was "very tough" trying to negotiate with the North on how to prevent such provocations in the future while emphasising that "we take these violations very seriously".

Amid the talks yesterday, North Korea was found to have deployed about 20 amphibious landing craft to the front line in a bid to ramp up its combat-readiness. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had last Friday declared a "quasi-state of war" and warned that his country was prepared to go to all-out war.

South Korea, on the other hand, is discussing with the United States to mobilise a strategic bomber and a nuclear-powered submarine, among other military assets as a deterrent to the North.

Despite the severity of the military crisis, it has been life as usual for the people in South Korea, many of whom have become immune to recurring threats from the North.

JoongAng Ilbo noted that "consumers remain deaf to (the) threat of war" and that the only report of panic in Seoul came from a North Korean propaganda website, which claimed that people were stockpiling necessities in Incheon city and flooding the airport there.

Meanwhile, South Korean police are investigating online rumours, including that of a gun battle at the truce line which killed 190 North Koreans and a South Korean.

The National Police Agency said yesterday they had strengthened online surveillance.

President Park has urged people to remain calm. "If we can unite our power and the will of all the citizens to act as one, we can surely overcome the current security crisis and even turn the crisis into an opportunity," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline ''No let-up' in propaganda barrage'. Print Edition | Subscribe