North, South Korea top brass hold talks on border crisis
"The South and the North agreed to hold talks related to the ongoing situation in South-North relations at 6pm our time at [border village of] Panmunjom," said Kim Kyou-hyun, deputy national security adviser to the South Korean president, earlier on Saturday.
The meeting started at 18:00 local time (09:00 GMT).
Seoul said the initial proposal for negotiations came from Pyongyang on Friday.
National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo will hold a meeting with two North Korean officials - Kim Yang-gon, the top official in charge of South Korea affairs, and Hwang Pyong-so, director of the general political department of North Korea's military.
Earlier Pyongyang delivered an ultimatum to Seoul demanding it stop broadcasting propaganda via loudspeakers across the borders. It set a deadline of 17:00 local time (08:00 GMT) on Saturday for this to happen. The North threatened ‘imminent’ military action if Seoul didn’t meet the demands.
The South will target any North Korean units that attack loudspeakers in the Demilitarized Zone, a South Korean Defense Ministry official told TASS.
"In case of fire on broadcasting stations in the Demilitarised Zone, our armed forces will counterattack."
He added that the South’s military “would act proportionally on any threats they face.”
The announcement of talks comes amid high tensions on the Korean peninsula after the sides exchanged fire on Thursday and Saturday.
On Saturday, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un placed the country’s troops on high alert, threatening “indiscriminate strikes” if South Korea doesn’t stop its propaganda broadcasts over the border.
“Psychological warfare against [North Korea] is, in essence, an open act of war against it," North Korea's state-run KCNA news agency said in a statement on Friday.
South Korea, however, shows no signs of backing down. The country’s Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo told the parliament that the broadcasts would continue, adding the North was likely to fire at the areas of the Demilitarized Zone where broadcasting transmitters are stationed, as reported by Reuters.
On Thursday, reports emerged that South Korea had ordered the evacuation of civilians from the border area to the west of the Korean Peninsula, which was reportedly shelled by the North’s military.
Seoul said it has been seeking support and advice from the ‘key nations’ in the international community.
"Our government has explained the details regarding North Korea's shelling to the international community, including key nations and the United Nations, and we are discussing measures to work together to deter further provocations from the North," a government official told the Yonhap news agency on condition of anonymity.
South Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs held a phone conversation with US and Chinese officials on Friday regarding the tense situation on the peninsula.
Relations between North and South Korea are currently tenser than usual after a land mine incident this month. Two South Korean soldiers were wounded in a landmine explosion, with Seoul blaming Pyongyang, an accusation the North denied. Mounting propaganda loudspeakers along the borders was the South’s response to the incident.