North Korea regrets mine blast, South switches off loudspeakers

South Korean loudspeakers broadcasting propaganda over the border to the North were switched off Tuesday, a Defence Ministry official said, as part of a deal to defuse recently escalating tensions, dpa reports.

A South Korean soldier removing loudspeakers in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Paju, north of Seoul

A South Korean soldier removing loudspeakers in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Paju

The agreement was reached early Tuesday after three days of high-level talks, South Korean security advisor Kim Kwan Jin said from Seoul.

It included an undertaking by North Korea to lift its “quasi-state of war,” and Pyongyang’s expression of “regret” over a landmine explosion that blew the legs off two South Korean troops patrolling the demilitarized zone between the countries this month.

The two sides also agreed to discuss resuming family reunions around the Chuseok holiday that falls on Sept. 27.

Seoul’s President Park Geun Hye hoped the deal was a sign of a long-term improvement in relations, but stressed the importance of implementing it, a spokesman said.

South Korea said it would wait until North Korea had “normalized” its military deployment before lifting its own state of military readiness, the South’s Yonhap News Agency reported.

‘Look, people are watching’

South Korea’s Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said it is the first time North Korea had expressed regret over its provocations.

“The biggest strength that led to this meaningful agreement was that the people stayed together,” Hong said.

“When North Korea did not show responsibility or demanded something unfair during the course of the dialogue and the negotiation, I mostly used a phrase that said ‘the people are watching,'” Hong said.

‘Long way to go’

Chang Yong-seok, a senior analyst at Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification, told Korea Times: “It is recognizable that South and North Korea reached the deal amid growing tension, but a lot of pending issues may prevent the two sides from further improving ties.”

Now one has to see how the agreement works, he added.

“The North expressed regret over the landmine detonation to stop the propaganda campaign, but family reunions is the issue that the North can always propose and talks between authorities have many uncertainties until they are held,” Chang said.

“Although the escalated tension was defused, there is a long way to go in shifting from confrontation to cooperation,” he said.

Joint projects

The deal might pave the way to expand economic cooperation, analysts were quoted as saying by the South’s Yonhap News Agency.

All joint projects have been on hold since 2010, except a jointly run industrial park at Kaesong, close to the border in North Korea.

North Korean negotiators raised the issue of resuming tours to a resort at Mount Kumgang on its south-eastern coast, Yonhap said, citing unnamed government insiders.

The resort was a strong earner of hard currency, with 2 million South Korean visitors in total until July 2008, when all tours were suspended after a tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier, according to some reports, after the tourist wandered out of the designated area.

US, China hail deal

The United State welcomed the agreement reached between the Koreas late Monday.

“We support President Park’s tireless efforts to improve inter-Korean relations, which support peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a regular briefing.

China said Seoul and Pyongyang should “successfully implement the agreement, while maintaining dialogue and consultation.”



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