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Inter-Korean relations enter thawing mood on eased military tensions

Relations between South Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) have entered a thawing mood on the easing of military tensions that had escalated in recent weeks on landmine blasts and propaganda broadcasts entailing a war of words.

South Korea stopped all propaganda broadcasts in frontline areas from noon Tuesday as agreed upon during the top-level talks between chief military aides to the leaders of the two Koreas, an official at Seoul's defense ministry said by phone.

In return, the DPRK reportedly lifted the order of its troops into a state of war from noon as well.

The defense ministry told a press briefing that its military will downgrade the alert level, put to the highest at the peak of tensions, in a gradual manner as it takes time for Pyongyang to withdraw troops from the front.

The de-escalation of tensions came after the DPRK put its frontline combined forces into a wartime state on Aug. 21 in protest against the resumed South Korean psychological warfare with loudspeakers in border areas.

South Korea restarted the broadcasts from Aug. 10 in retaliation for the Aug. 4 explosion of landmines, which injured two South Korean soldiers on patrol duty inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ), a buffer zone spanning some two kilometers on either side of the two Koreas.

Seoul and Pyongyang exchanged artillery fires on Thursday, bringing the heightened tensions to the brink of war. The two sides traded threats and counter-threats, with tensions soaring to the highest since President Park Geun-hye took office in early 2013.

To lower tensions, chief military aides to President Park and top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un met in the truce village of Panmunjom from Saturday afternoon to the early hours of Tuesday. A six-point agreement was reached after 43 hours of marathon talks.

On the written agreement, the DPRK expressed regret over the injured South Korean soldiers from the mine explosion. It was the first time that Pyongyang has regretted about something in a written agreement with Seoul, which can be seen as the meaning of apology.

South Korea agreed to stop all propaganda broadcasts "as far as abnormal situations are not unfolded."

Shining rays of hope for inter-Korean relations, the first- point agreement was to hold talks in Seoul or Pyongyang at an earliest possible date. The two sides also agreed to continue dialogues and negotiations in various areas to improve ties.

A South Korea's unification ministry official said the country will make efforts to regularly hold talks with the DPRK.

The two Koreas have already agreed to hold a working-level Red Cross contact in early September for reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War during the Chuseok holiday that falls in late September.

In addition to the humanitarian issue, both sides can talk about all issues of mutual concern during the upcoming dialogues, such as the resumption of tour to the scenic Mount Kumgang resort, in which the DPRK has had great interest.

Uncertainties remained in the path to peace and stability on the peninsula.

South Korea and the United States are conducting a 12-day joint annual war game, which kicked off a week earlier, despite the DPRK 's denunciation of it as a rehearsal for northward invasion.

The two allies would stage live-fire drills this week as planned, mobilizing armored vehicles, tanks and fighter jets.

South Korea has called for the DPRK's apology for the sinking of a warship, in which Pyongyang has denied any involvement. It resulted in the May 24 sanctions imposed in 2010 by South Korea on the DPRK.

Some worried that the DPRK may test-fire a long-range rocket, which South Korea saw as a ballistic missile, around the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea on Oct. 10.

Pyongyang has erected a 67-meter-high launch tower for long- range rockets, taller than the previous 50-meter pad, at a Tongchang-ri rocket base in the northwest DPRK. The country fired a three-stage Unha-3 rocket into space orbit in December 2012, two months before its third nuclear test.

[Source: By Yoo Seungki, Xinhua, Seoul, 25Aug15]

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