South and North Korea resumed talks Sunday afternoon to ease tensions after an exchange of artillery and mutual threats have renewed fears of open confrontation. The first ministerial-level meetings in a year began Saturday and went long past midnight in the border village of Panmunjom.
But even as the parlay resumed, South Korea’s military is reporting that it detected unusual troop and submarine movements in North Korea that indicated Pyongyang gearing up for a possible strike.
Seoul’s Defence Ministry says at least 50 of the North’s 77 attack submarines had left their bases and were undetectable by the South Korean military as of Saturday. There were also reports of increased artillery deployments on its side of the so-called Demilitarized Zone, the most heavily-armed frontier in the world.
“It seems that the North is pursuing dialogue on one side and preparing for battle on another side,” the unnamed South Korean defence official said.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing Seoul’s military officials, said the submarine deployment was the largest since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
“The number is nearly 10 times the normal level … and it is a very serious situation,” it quotes one unnamed official as saying.
Meanwhile, North Korean media have reported that more than 1 million young people have volunteered to join or rejoin the military to defend their country should a conflict break out with the rival South Korea and its US ally.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency reports that “young people across the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are turning out in the sacred war for defending the country with their faith and will to annihilate the enemies.”
Despite the heated rhetoric AP reports calm in the streets in the North’s capital city.
North’s outrage over propaganda broadcasts
The crisis began to spiral after South Korea resumed the use of loudspeakers to broadcast propaganda across the border last week, in retaliation for a land mine it accused North Korean forces of laying that blew the legs off two South Korean troops.
The tension then escalated with an exchange of dozens of artillery shells across the border on Thursday. Pyongyang intensified its threats Saturday.
“Our military and people are prepared to risk their lives in an all-out war, to defend the system our people choose,” the Foreign Ministry said on the official Korean Central News Agency, shortly before the Panmunjom talks began.