PAJU, South Korea (CNN) — On a day of escalating tensions and heated rhetoric on the Korean peninsula, the two sides were meeting Saturday at the historic “truce village” inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), South Korean officials said.
The high-level talks included, from the North, Kim Jong Un’s deputy, Hwang Byeong Seo and Kim Yang Gon, a veteran of South Korean negotiations since Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, ruled the secretive regime. South Korea’s Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo and Kim Kwan-jin, the head of National Security, will also attend the meeting.
A South Korean presidential briefing stated that the North had specifically requested that the two officials attend.
The meeting comes after 48 hours of threats and counter-threats, which saw a brief exchange of artillery fire Thursday.
There was a further sign Saturday that tensions could ease: In a rare move, North Korean state TV referred to the South as the “Republic of Korea,” rather than with the usual propaganda term the “puppet state” in its reporting on the diplomatic talks.
South Korean TV broadcaster YTN re-broadcast the clip of North Korean TV using South Korea’s proper name.
The resort area of Imjingak in Paju city, only 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the DMZ, which is usually open to tourists, was closed Saturday, and an information phone line went unanswered when CNN called.
An employee who was driving around to ensure that the resort was empty of tourists said that authorities were evacuating people from this area because there was a danger of bombing.
North Korea: Stop “provocations”
Kim Jong Un’s regime had declared Friday to its southern neighbor: Stop the “provocations” and “psychological warfare” or pay the price.
South Korea has broadcast pro-democracy propaganda via loud speakers across the border with the North, after two South Korean soldiers were wounded by landmines the South says the North planted.
The South has set up 11 broadcasting points from which it intermittently blasts a combination of democracy content, world news and weather reports into North Korea, the South’s Defense Ministry said. It is a tactic the South had stopped using for 10 years.
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
North Korea’s regime, known for being both thin-skinned and fond of saber rattling, has made plenty of threats before, and when it does, South Koreans mostly just go about life as usual.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday that its troops on the border areas are on “regular position.”
And Pyongyang’s vitriol and insults about South Korea and the United States have been the norm for years.
But this case is more pointed than usual, as two South Korean soldiers were seriously wounded by landmines on August 4 in the Demilitarized Zone and there’s been firing back-and-forth since then.
Ambassador An said Friday that “all the (North Korean) frontline large combined units entered into a wartime state … fully armed to launch any surprise operations and finish their preparations for action.”
Pyongyang had demanded the propaganda broadcasts be turned off by 5 p.m. local time (4 a.m. ET) Saturday but, according to local media reports, they are continuing.
Ten minutes before the deadline was up, North Korea sent a fax notifying the government in the South.
U.S., South Korea exercises resume
South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo accused North Korea of pushing the tensions “to the utmost level.”
“North Korea’s offensive action is a despicable crime that breaks a ceasefire agreement and the nonaggression treaty between North and South,” Han said Friday in an address broadcast on South Korean television.
“If North Korea continues on provoking, our military — as we have already warned — will respond sternly, and end the evil provocations of North Korea,” he said, adding the country is working closely with the United States.
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 to a fevered pitch.
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 two South Korean soldiers on a patrol route in the southern part of the zone.
North Korea has denied responsibility and refused South Korean 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.
On Thursday, South Korean officials said the North fired artillery shells over the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two countries. A U.S. official told CNN that North Korea was believed to be targeting a loudspeaker position.
The South fired back several dozen shells of its own, according to the Defense Ministry.
No casualties were reported by either side.