South Korea and North Korea were holding their first high-level talks in nearly a year at a border village today to defuse mounting tensions that have pushed the rivals to the brink of a possible military confrontation.
The talks came shortly after an afternoon deadline set by North Korea for South Korea to dismantle loudspeakers broadcasting anti-North Korean propaganda at their border.
North Korea had declared its front-line troops are in full war readiness and prepared to go to battle if Seoul doesn't back down.
The closed-door meeting at Panmunjom began early today evening, said an official from South Korea's Unification Ministry, who didn't want to be named because of office rules. The official did not give details.
The South Korean presidential office said earlier that the country's national security director, Kim Kwan-jin, and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo would sit down with Hwang Pyong So, the top political officer for the Korean People's Army, and Kim Yang Gon, a senior North Korean official responsible for South Korean affairs.
Hwang is considered by outside analysts to be North Korea's second most important official after supreme leader Kim Jong Un.
The meeting came as a series of incidents raised fears that the conflict could spiral out of control, starting with a land mine attack, allegedly by the North, that maimed two South Korean soldiers and the South's resumption of anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts.
An official from South Korea's Defense Ministry, who didn't want to be named because of office rules, said that the South would continue with the anti-Pyongyang broadcasts during the meeting and would make a decision on whether to halt them depending on the result of the talks.
South Korea had been using 11 loudspeaker systems along the border for the broadcasts, which included the latest news around the Korean Peninsula and the world, South Korean popular music and programs praising the South's democracy and economic affluence over the North's oppressive government, a senior military official said at a news conference, on condition of anonymity.
Each loudspeaker system has broadcast for more than 10 hours a day in three or four different time slots that were frequently changed for unpredictably, the official said.
If North Korea attacks the loudspeakers, the South is ready to strike back at the North Korean units responsible for such attacks, he said.