Koreas hold talks as anti-North leaflet planned
Military officers from the divided Koreas held talks on Monday aimed at easing tension while South Korean activists planned to send anti-Pyongyang leaflets into the North despite heated protests from the communist state, Reuters reported.
The talks came despite a threat about 10 days ago from impoverished North Korea to cut off all ties with the South, a major supplier of aid and cash, in anger at the hardline policies of its president, who Pyongyang brands a U.S. sycophant.
North Korea asked for the meeting last week, saying it wanted to discuss military hotlines between the two countries technically still at war, but officials in the South expect the North to use the forum to complain about the leaflets.
The South's Defence Ministry confirmed the talks, involving four officers from each country, had started at the border but did not provide further details. The two sides have set up hotlines in order to prevent hostilities along one of the world's most militarized borders from escalating into fighting.
South Korean groups have been sending the leaflets, which travel by balloon into the North, for years. Analysts said the recent wave appears to have touched a nerve because they mention a taboo subject in the North -- the health of leader Kim Jong-il, who was thought to have suffered a stroke in August.
In the first direct talks with the South since conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in February, North Korea said in October the leaflets violated a deal reached between the two states, whose 1950-53 war was halted by a cease fire.
The 100,000 leaflets to be released on Monday, printed on plastic sheets and in water-proof ink, will carry the names of South Korean civilians and prisoners of war believed to be held in the North, and a family tree that supposedly maps Kim's relationships with the several women who bore his children, said the two groups who plan to launch them off the east coast.
U.S. and South Korean officials said Kim may have fallen seriously ill in August, raising questions about leadership in Asia's only communist dynasty and who was making decisions about its nuclear weapons program.
The groups said they also plan to attach U.S. dollars and Chinese yuan to the leaflets.
The North's official cabinet newspaper said last week the leaflets were "getting on the nerves of the army and people of the DPRK (North Korea)," and could lead to fighting.
"It is beyond any doubt that this conflict will develop into a new war, a nuclear war because the U.S. massively stockpiled nuclear weapons in South Korea and all Koreans in the North and the South will suffer from it," the Minju Joson commentary said.