Talks between South and North Korea adjourned amid fears of confrontation
The first high-level talks in nearly a year between South Korea and North Korea have adjourned and will resume on Sunday afternoon.
The rivals, who are trying to defuse mounting tensions that have pushed them to the brink of a possible military confrontation, began their meeting in the border village of Panmunjom at 6.30pm local time.
South Korea's presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook said the meeting adjourned at 4.15am and the two delegations will resume talks at 3pm on Sunday. He did not disclose any other details about the talks.
The talks were held shortly after a Saturday deadline set by North Korea for the South to dismantle loudspeakers broadcasting anti-North Korean propaganda at their border.
North Korea had declared that its front-line troops were in full war readiness and prepared to go to battle if Seoul did not back down.
Marathon talks are not unusual for the Koreas, who have had long negotiating sessions in recent years over much less momentous issues. oops were in full war readiness and prepared to go to battle if Seoul did not back down.
At the meeting, South Korea's presidential national security director, Kim Kwan-jin, and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo sat down with Hwang Pyong So, the top political officer for the Korean People's Army, and Kim Yang Gon, a senior North Korean official responsible for South Korean affairs.
Mr Hwang is considered by outside analysts to be North Korea's second most important official after supreme leader Kim Jong Un.
The meeting came as a series of incidents raised fears that the conflict could spiral out of control, starting with a land mine attack, allegedly by the North, that maimed two South Korean soldiers and the South's resumption of anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts.
On Thursday, South Korea's military fired dozens of artillery rounds across the border in response to what Seoul said were North Korean artillery strikes meant to back up a threat to attack the loudspeakers.
An official from South Korea's Defence Ministry said on Saturday that the South continued with the anti-Pyongyang broadcasts after the start of the meeting and planned to make a decision on whether to halt them depending on the result of the talks.
While the meeting offered a way for the rivals to avoid an immediate collision, analysts in Seoul wondered whether the countries were standing too far apart to expect a quick agreement.
South Korea probably could not afford to walk away with a weak agreement after it had openly vowed to stem a "vicious cycle" of North Korean provocations amid public anger over the alleged land mine attack, Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University, said ahead of the meeting.
It was highly unlikely that the North would accept the South's expected demand for Pyongyang to take responsibility for the land mine explosions and apologise, he added. However, Mr Koh said the meeting might open the door to more talks between the rivals to discuss a variety of issues.
South Korea had been using 11 loudspeaker systems along the border for the broadcasts, which included the latest news around the Korean Peninsula and the world, South Korean popular music and programmes praising the South's democracy and economic affluence over the North's oppressive government, a senior military official said.
Each loudspeaker system has broadcast for more than 10 hours a day in three or four different time slots that were frequently changed for unpredictability, the official said. If North Korea attacks the loudspeakers, the South is ready to strike back at the North Korean units responsible for such attacks, he said.
Authoritarian North Korea, which has also restarted its own propaganda broadcasts, is extremely sensitive to any criticism of its government. Analysts in Seoul also believe the North fears that the South's broadcasts could demoralise its front-line troops and inspire them to defect.