North and South Korea fail to narrow gap

North and South Korea fail to narrow gap

The two Koreas on Wednesday held closed-door high-level military talks in the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjeom only to find the wide gaps in their views over a set of pending defence issues, Seoul's Defence Ministry said.

During the talks at the South-controlled Peace House, the two sides failed to bridge the gaps over the issues of heightened tensions surrounding the Northern Limit Line, a de facto sea border, anti-Pyongyang leaflets and other sensitive issues.

After the unfruitful meeting, Seoul's Unification Ministry announced that it had proposed holding the second round of high-level inter-Korean talks at Tongilgak, a building on the North Korean side of Panmunjeom, on Oct. 30.

The proposal was sent to the North two days earlier, but the North had yet to respond to it. During a surprise visit by the high-level North Korean delegation to the Incheon Asian Games on Oct. 4, the two sides agreed to resume high-level talks, which were last held in February.

The high-level military talks were held after Hwang Pyong-so, the director of the North Korean military's General Political Bureau, sent a fax message to South Korea's presidential National Security Office chief Kim Kwan-jin last Tuesday to hold "urgent talks." The North's proposal came shortly after the two sides traded fire following the North's violation of the NLL.

"Both sides began the talks with hopes of improvement in the inter-Korean relations. But we remained poles apart over a set of issues and failed to narrow the gaps," said Seoul's Defence Ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok.

During the talks that began at 10 a.m. and ended at 3:10 p.m., the North argued that the South Korean naval ships should not enter its "West Sea guard line." It also demanded that South Korean activists stop sending balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets and South Korean media stop slandering the communist state.

In response, the South reiterated that the North should abide by the NLL, and that the government in a democratic society cannot regulate civilian activities and media, spokesperson Kim told reporters.

At the talks, the South Korean delegation was led by Yoo Jeh-seung, deputy ministry for policy at the Defence Ministry, while the North Korean side was headed by Kim Yong-chol, the director of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the North's core military spy agency.

Last Friday, the North fired hundreds of shots with heavy machine guns, aiming them at the balloons South Korean activists had floated from areas near the inter-Korean border. Some of the shots landed in South Korea's civilian access control area, which caused the South to fire back.

The balloons carried leaflets intended to awaken North Korean people about the brutality of the regime, radios, $1 bills and other items. Pyongyang has criticised Seoul for turning a blind eye to the leaflets, which it says undermine its "supreme dignity," while Seoul argues that it cannot regulate civilian activities.

As for the NLL, the two Koreas have remained at odds over the maritime demarcation. The North has long disputed the line, claiming that it should be redrawn further south as it was unilaterally drawn by the US-led UN Command after the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Wednesday's meeting was the first inter-Korean military meeting since the Park Geun-hye administration took office in February 2013. The two Koreas last held general-level talks in December 2007 and working-level military talks in February 2011.

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