North, South Korea resume talks amid tension

Story highlights

  • Second day of talks begin at "truce village" in Demilitarized Zone
  • S. Korean military officials say their North counterparts are beefing up artillery, sub patrols

Paju, South Korea (CNN)North and South Korea resumed talks at the historic "truce village" Sunday in a bid to ease tensions and heated rhetoric that escalated last week.

The talks, held inside the Demilitarized Zone, featured key players such as Hwang Pyong So, who is the reclusive regime's leader's deputy and political director of North Korea's army.
    Also present was Kim Yang Gon, a veteran of negotiations with South Korea since Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, ruled the secretive regime.
    Korea watchers point to the seniority of the two men, particularly Hwang, as an indication of the North's intentions.
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    "He can speak with the authority of Kim Jong Un. This is as high as you can go. He has the longest history, best idea of what Kim Jong Un and what he's hoping to get out of it," Professor David Kang of the University of Southern California's Korean Studies Institute told CNN.
    Kim Yang Gon's attendance may signal that the North really wants serious wide-ranging negotiations.
    From South Korea, Kim Kwan-jin, national security adviser to the president; and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo attended the meeting.

    Mistrust lingers

    The talks take place against a backdrop of mutual mistrust. A South Korean Defense Ministry official told CNN that the North had doubled artillery forces on the front lines in comparison to the level before talks were proposed.
    During the same period, the official said, 70% of the North's submarine units have left their bases. Local media put the number of subs on patrol at around 50, although their movements are not currently traceable.
    "They are showing two faces," the source, who was not named, added.
    "The joint forces between South Korea and the U.S. are currently putting its best efforts in responding to it."
    From the North's perspective, previous language that had been seen as conciliatory -- its state media, KCNA, had referred to its southern neighbor by its official title, the Republic of Korea -- has reverted to a more typical, inflammatory style.
    "The south Korean puppet warmongers ran amuck for confrontation, firing shells to the area of the DPRK's side," read one line from an official KCNA report dated Sunday, which used an acronym for North Korea's official title, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
    The meeting comes after days of threats and counter-threats, which saw a brief exchange of artillery fire Thursday.
    Hostilities escalated this month after South Korea resumed propaganda broadcasts against the North, which was blamed for a landmine explosion in the DMZ that wounded two South Korean soldiers. The North resumed its anti-South broadcasts.
    Propaganda loudspeakers, placed in 11 locations along the DMZ, are still "in operation," a South Korean Defense Ministry official told CNN.
    The evacuation order to residents living near the DMZ is still in effect.

    North Korea: Stop "provocations"

    Kim Jong Un's regime Friday warned its southern neighbor to stop the "provocations" and "psychological warfare" or pay the price.
    South Korea's Defense Ministry said Saturday that its troops on the border areas were on "regular position."
    South Korea's pro-democracy broadcasts, via loud speakers across the border with the North, restarted after the two South Korean soldiers were wounded by landmines.
    Before the talks were announced, North Korean U.N. Ambassador An Myong Hun told reporters: "If South Korea does not respond to our ultimatum ... our military counteraction will be inevitable and that counteraction will be very strong."
    As a result of the threats, residents in northern areas of South Korea, such as the district of Yeoncheon, which neighbors the DMZ, were being urged to evacuate Saturday.

    Threats almost normal, but this is pointed

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    North Korea's regime, known for being both thin-skinned and fond of saber-rattling, has made threats before, and when it does, South Koreans mostly just go about life as usual.
    Tensions have mounted since the two South Korean soldiers were seriously wounded by landmines on August 4, including firing between the two sides.

    U.S., South Korea exercises resume

    One ongoing point of contention is South Korea's joint military exercises with the United States -- a regular training event that An contends aims to "occupy Pyongyang."
    Those exercises were suspended Thursday amid the war of words, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear told reporters. But they're now back on.
    "We suspended part of the exercise temporarily in order to allow our side to coordinate with the ROK (Republic of Korea) side on the subject of the exchange fire across the DMZ," Shear said. "And the exercise is being conducted now according to plan."
    During such exercises in the past, Pyongyang has escalated posturing, propaganda and threats.

    North Korea calls broadcasts 'an open act of war'

    South Korea and the U.S.-led U.N. Command in Korea concluded that North Korea planted the mines that wounded the South Korean soldiers.
    North Korea denied responsibility and refused demands for an apology.
    Seoul has since resumed its cross-border propaganda broadcasts, which North Korea called "an open act of war" and spurred it to threaten to blow up the speakers.