South Korea halts propaganda broadcasts at DMZ as military drills with US kick off

South Korean soldiers standing guard before the military demarcation line at the border truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas, on April 11, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL - South Korea halted the propaganda broadcasts it blares across the border at North Korea on Monday (April 23) ahead of their first summit in a decade, as US President Donald Trump cautioned the nuclear crisis on the peninsula was a long way from being resolved.

North and South Korea are in the final stages of preparations for a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In at the border truce village of Panmunjom on Friday.

Ahead of the summit, North Korea announced it would halt nuclear and missile tests and said it was scrapping its nuclear test site to instead pursue economic growth and peace.

"North Korea's decision to freeze its nuclear programme is a significant decision for the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula," South Korean President Moon Jae In said in a regular meeting at the Blue House on Monday.

"It is a green light that raises the chances of positive outcomes at the North's summits with South Korea and the United States. If North Korea goes the path of complete denuclearisation starting from this, then a bright future for North Korea can be guaranteed."

The South's propaganda broadcasts were stopped at midnight, the defence ministry said, without specifying whether they would resume after the Kim-Moon summit.

"We hope this decision will lead both Koreas to stop mutual criticism and propaganda against each other and also contribute in creating peace and a new beginning," the South Korean defence ministry said about the decision to halt the broadcasts.

The South's military will also likely pause its annual combined military exercise with the US on the summit day.

The annual Key Resolve command-post training kicked off earlier on Monday (April 23) for a two-week run as scheduled.

The allies plan to finish the first part of the drill on Thursday, followed by an unofficial assessment session Friday and continue with the second part of the drill next week, an informed source told Yonhap.

Their separate four-week Foal Eagle field exercise is drawing to a close this week. The springtime Foal Eagle exercise, which usually takes place late February or early March, was postponed this year to avoid an overlap with the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games held from February to March in South Korea.

Observers have said the South Korea-US drills have been notably scaled down this year. The two-month long Foal Eagle exercise has been reduced to a four-week run with no major US strategic assets such as supercarriers or nuclear submarines expected to be deployed to the peninsula, Yonhap reported.

The halt in propaganda broadcast is the first time in more than two years the South Korean broadcasts, which include a mixture of news, South Korean pop music and criticism of the North Korean regime, have been stopped.

North Korea has its own propaganda loudspeakers at the border, but a defence ministry official said he could not verify whether the North had stopped its broadcasts.

"Now the South-North Korea summit has come to be just four days away. We are standing at a crossroad to denuclearisation not by military measures but through peaceful means and permanent peace," President Moon said in a meeting with his top aides at his office Cheong Wa Dae.

"The entire world is watching and the entire world is hoping for its success. I ask that our political circles too will halt their political warfare at least during the summit," he added.

Officials from South Korea and North Korea held talks on Monday to discuss details of the upcoming summit, reported Yonhap.

The meeting was held at the joint security area of Panmunjom inside the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which is also the venue for Friday's summit. The working-level talks discussed protocols and security measures for the two leaders.

It is the third of its kind since Kim agreed on March 5 to meet Moon and US President Donald Trump for separate summits aimed at denuclearising his country.

Moon is making Friday's summit his sole focus this week, a Blue House official said on Sunday.

For the past few weeks, South Korea has been renovating Peace House, on its side of Panmunjom, to prepare for the summit with Kim, who will be the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Moon now has a direct phone link with Kim on his office desk, instead of having to communicate through a hotline at the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom, which had been the main channel between the two sides over the Winter Olympics in February.

The two leaders are expected to talk over the newly-installed phone for the first time this week, before the summit, South Korea said on Friday.

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