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North, South Korea reach agreement to halt tensions

SEOUL: North and South Korea reached agreement early on Tuesday after more than two days of talks to end a standoff involving an exchange of artillery fire that had pushed the divided peninsula into a state of heightened military tension.

Under the accord reached after midnight on Tuesday morning, North Korea expressed regret over the recent wounding of South Korean soldiers in a landmine incident and Seoul agreed to halt anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts, both sides said.

North Korea also agreed to end the “quasi state of war” it had declared. The two sides will hold follow-up talks to discuss a range of issues on improving ties, the joint statement said.

“It is very meaningful that from this meeting North Korea apologized for the landmine provocation and promised to work to prevent the recurrence of such events and ease tensions,” Kim Kwan-jin, national security adviser to the South Korean president, told a televised news briefing.

Pyongyang has previously denied laying the landmines, and in the statement did not explicitly take responsibility for them.

The marathon talks at the Panmunjom truce village inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas began on Saturday, shortly after Pyongyang’s deadline for the South to halt its propaganda broadcasts or face military action.

Seoul and Pyongyang have remained technically in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean war ended in a truce, rather than a peace treaty.

The recent escalation in tensions began early this month, when landmine explosions in the DMZ wounded two South Korean soldiers.

Days later, the South began blasting anti-Pyongyang propaganda from loudspeakers along the border.

The standoff reached a crisis point on Thursday when the North fired four shells into the South, according to Seoul, which responded with a barrage of artillery fire. Neither side reported casualties.

Pyongyang then made its ultimatum that Seoul halt the broadcasts by Saturday afternoon or face military action, but on that day the two sides agreed to hold talks between top level aides to the leaders of the two countries.

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