South Korea talks tough amid heightened tensions with North

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North, South Korea Talks Seek Peaceful Resolution

(Reuters) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye demanded on Monday that North Korea apologize over recent landmine blasts, even as the bitter rivals held marathon talks to defuse tensions that have brought the peninsula back to the brink of armed conflict.

Park said anti-North propaganda broadcasts would continue unless Pyongyang took responsibility for landmine explosions early this month that wounded two South Korean soldiers in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) separating the two countries.

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North Korea denies it laid the mines. 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 landmine blasts escalated into a crisis that saw both sides exchange artillery fire on Thursday and ramp up their military readiness. The United Nations, the United States and the North's lone major ally, China, have all called for calm.

While North Korea often makes threats, prompting tough talk from the South, the two sides have always stopped short of a return to war, although dozens of soldiers have been killed over the years. Analysts expect current tensions eventually to ease.

See photos from the tensions between North and South Korea:

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South Korea talks tough amid heightened tensions with North
South Korean protesters with defaced portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and North Korean flags shout slogans during an anti-North Korean rally in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. The North leader on Friday declared his frontline troops in a "quasi-state of war" and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after the most serious confrontation between the rivals in years. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A South Korean army soldier patrols at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. South Korea fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed several rounds across the world's most heavily armed border and threatened to take further action unless Seoul ends its loudspeaker broadcasts. The North denied it fired any shots and warned of retaliation for what it called a serious provocation. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a television news program reporting about South Korea's respond to the North with a file video footage at Seoul train station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. South Korea's military fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed a single artillery round at a South Korean border town, the South's Defense ministry said. The letters read "South Korean military, respond 155mm shells to the North." (Kim Do-hun/Yonhap via AP)
South Korean army soldiers stand guard at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. South Korea fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed several rounds across the world's most heavily armed border and threatened to take further action unless Seoul ends its loudspeaker broadcasts. The North denied it fired any shots and warned of retaliation for what it called a serious provocation. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean protesters with defaced portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shout slogans during an anti-North Korean rally in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. The North leader on Friday declared his frontline troops in a "quasi-state of war" and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after the most serious confrontation between the rivals in years. The letters at right read: "Explode the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il !" (AP Photo/Julie Yoon)
A South Korean protester burns a portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korean rally in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. The North leader on Friday declared his frontline troops in a "quasi-state of war" and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after the most serious confrontation between the rivals in years. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a propaganda movie showing soldiers line up in front of their tanks shown on a large screen in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. North Korea on Friday declared its frontline troops in a "a quasi-state of war" after the north and south accusing each other of firing at each other across the world's most heavily armed border. The Korean on the screen reads: "The man who offends the dignity of Korea." (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
South Korean army soldiers walk on the way to returning to their base after a patrol, in Paju, south of the demilitarized zone that divides the two Koreas, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. South Korea fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed several rounds across the world's most heavily armed border and threatened to take further action unless Seoul ends its loudspeaker broadcasts. The North denied it fired any shots and warned of retaliation for what it called a serious provocation. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean protesters burn an effigy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a North Korean flag during an anti-North Korean rally in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. The North leader on Friday declared his frontline troops in a "quasi-state of war" and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after the most serious confrontation between the rivals in years. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean anti-war protesters stage a rally demanding peace and reunification of the Korean peninsula near the presidential house in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday declared his frontline troops in a "quasi-state of war" and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after the most serious confrontation between the rivals in years. (AP Photo/Julie Yoon)
A portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is burnt by South Korean protesters during an anti-North Korean rally in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. The North leader on Friday declared his frontline troops in a "quasi-state of war" and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after the most serious confrontation between the rivals in years. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A man locks a shutter of his shop after an evacuation order is issued to the residents and visitors at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. South Korea's military fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed a single artillery round at a South Korean border town, the South's Defense ministry said. (Kim Seung-doo/Yonhap via AP)
A South Korean soldier uses a radio on a military vehicle at the South Korean border town of Yeoncheon, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. South Korea's military fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed a single artillery round at the border town, the South's Defense ministry said. (Hong Hae-in/Yonhap via AP) 
Residents carry emergency goods to a shelter at the South Korean border town of Yeoncheon Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. South Korea's military fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed a single artillery round at Yeoncheon, the South's Defense ministry said. About 80 residents in the town where the shell fell were evacuated to underground bunkers, and authorities urged other residents to evacuate, a Yeoncheon official said. (Hong Hae-in/Yonhap via AP)
Residents gather at a shelter in Yeoncheon, the South Korean town where the shell fell in South Korea Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. South Korea's military fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed a single artillery round at the South Korean border town, the South's Defense ministry said. (Hong Hae-in/Yonhap via AP) 
South Korean government officials deliver emergency food as residents gather at a shelter in the South Korean town of Yeoncheon where the shell fell Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. South Korea's military fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed a single artillery round at the border town, the South's Defense ministry said. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean residents gather at a shelter in the South Korean town of Yeoncheon where the shell fell Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. South Korea's military fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed a single artillery round at the border town, the South's Defense ministry said. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Members of the Korean Disabled Veterans Association by Agent Orange in Vietnam War, shout slogans as they hold up defaced North Korean flags and images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a rally denouncing North Korea in front of the Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. South Korea restarted propaganda broadcasts across the border with rival North Korea on Monday for the first time in 11 years in retaliation for the North allegedly planting land mines last week that maimed two South Korean soldiers. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Members of the Korean Disabled Veterans Association by Agent Orange in Vietnam War, shout slogans with a banner showing defaced images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, late his father Kim Jong Il, center, and Kim Il Sung, the late founder of North Korea, during a rally denouncing North Korea, in front of the Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. South Korea restarted propaganda broadcasts across the border with rival North Korea on Monday for the first time in 11 years in retaliation for the North allegedly planting land mines last week that maimed two South Korean soldiers. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Members of the Korean Disabled Veterans Association by Agent Orange in Vietnam War, shout slogans as they hold mock North Korean flags and defaced images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a rally denouncing the North Korea in front of the Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. South Korea restarted propaganda broadcasts across the border with rival North Korea on Monday for the first time in 11 years in retaliation for the North allegedly planting land mines last week that maimed two South Korean soldiers. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
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"We need a clear apology and measures to prevent a recurrence of these provocations and tense situations," Park told a meeting with her top aides, according to a statement released by her office. "Otherwise, this government will take appropriate steps and continue loudspeaker broadcasts."

Seoul and Washington were reviewing the possibility of bringing in "strategic" U.S. military assets, South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said, without elaborating.

Two years ago, North Korea threatened military action in response to annual exercises by U.S. and South Korean forces, leading to a standoff during which U.S. stealth bombers flew over South Korea and an aircraft carrier was sent to the area.

"Our position at this point is to deter the North's provocation," Kim told a news briefing. "But if they wage provocation, our response will be merciless and they will truly feel sorry."

Reclusive North Korea had deployed twice the usual artillery strength at the border and had around 50 submarines away from base, the South's defense ministry said.

North Korea's state media has also kept up its anti-South rhetoric as the inter-Korean talks continued at the Panmunjom truce village inside the DMZ. Its KCNA news agency said 1 million young people had volunteered to join or rejoin the army, an assertion impossible to verify due to the North's isolation.

Park cited a story on Monday that two South Korean soldiers had delayed their discharges and South Korea's army said about 50 soldiers had taken the same step. Park's approval rating rose to 41 percent in a Realmeter poll conducted last week.

"I think that kind of patriotism can protect our country, setting an example for young people," she said.

Despite the tensions, daily life proceeded largely as normal on Monday in South Korea.

However, at the jointly run Kaesong Industrial Complex just north of the border that is the last meaningful vestige of the two Koreas' first summit meeting 15 years ago, South Korean officials have limited entry only to those directly involved in factory operations in recent days.

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The negotiations began on Saturday evening, shortly after North Korea's deadline passed for Seoul to halt the anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts or face military action. They broke up before dawn on Sunday and restarted that afternoon.

Chung Young-chul, a North Korea expert at Sogang University's Graduate School of Public Policy in Seoul, said Park's strong words may indicate a lack of progress, although other observers said the unusual length of the talks bodes well.

"I am not really optimistic about the talks because they both have heavy demands that can't be dropped," Chung said.

"It seems difficult to get any agreement and I think they are locking horns and tension will persist for a while."

Park's national security adviser, Kim Kwan-jin, and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo are representing the South in the talks. Hwang Pyong So, the top military aide to the North's leader, Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yang Gon, a veteran North Korean official in inter-Korean affairs, are representing Pyongyang.

Ties have been virtually frozen since the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship, which Seoul has blamed on a North Korean submarine. Pyongyang denies responsibility.

Days after the landmine incident, Seoul began its propaganda broadcasts in random three-hour bursts from 11 banks of loudspeakers, including news reports and K-pop music from the South, resuming a tactic both sides halted in 2004.

The crisis escalated on Thursday when the North fired four shells into the South, according to Seoul, which responded with a barrage of 29 artillery rounds. North Korea declared a "quasi-state of war" in front-line areas and set an ultimatum for Seoul to halt its broadcasts.

That deadline passed on Saturday without incident.

The United States, which has 28,500 soldiers based in South Korea, is conducting annual military exercises with the South. Pyongyang condemns the maneuvers as preparation for war.

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