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(2nd LD) Koreas reach deal on defusing tensions

All Headlines 03:56 August 25, 2015

(ATTN: UPDATES with details, quote of S. Korea's top negotiator; ADDS background)

SEOUL, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea produced an agreement on defusing heightened tensions, South Korea's top negotiator said Tuesday, in a dramatic breakthrough after days of intensive high-level talks.

North Korea expressed regret over its landmine attack and promised to make efforts toward provocations not recurring, National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin, told reporters after returning to Seoul from the border village of Panmunjom.

Kim described the North's move as "very meaningful."

The deal came hours after President Park Geun-hye warned South Korea would take measures and continue propaganda broadcasts unless North Korea offered a clear apology and promised not to stage any more provocations.

Tensions between the Koreas had risen dramatically in recent weeks after South Korea accused North Korea of being behind a landmine attack that maimed two South Korean soldiers.

The North also fired artillery shells across the border last Thursday, prompting South Korea to fire back dozens of shells.

The North had denied responsibility in both cases.

But North Korea later backed down from its adamant position during the negotiations that ended early Tuesday, clearing a key stumbling block to the deal. The two sides began the talks on Saturday evening.

In return, South Korea agreed to stop anti-Pyongyang broadcasts along the heavily fortified border as of 12 p.m. Tuesday unless an abnormal situation occurs, Kim said.

South Korea resumed the propaganda broadcasts earlier this month for the first time in 11 years in retaliation against North Korea for the landmine attack.

North Korea has repeatedly called for the end of the broadcasts critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, viewing them as an insult to its dignity. The isolated country is also concerned that an influx of outside information could pose a threat to its young leader.

In a sign of defusing tensions, North Korea said it will lift the semi-war state it had imposed on its military during the latest standoff.

The two sides also agreed to hold talks in either Seoul or Pyongyang at an early date to improve inter-Korean relations.

"We expect the two sides will implement the agreement in good faith and create trust through dialogue and cooperation," said Kim.

The two Koreas agreed to hold Red Cross talks early next month to arrange for reunions of families separated since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The two sides hope to stage the reunions around Chuseok, a major fall harvest holiday celebrated in both Koreas, that falls on Sept. 27.

Millions of Koreans remain separated since the Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

Family reunions are a pressing humanitarian issue on the divided peninsula, as most of the separated family members are in their 70s and 80s, and wish to see their long-lost relatives before they die.

In 2014, the two sides held a series of temporary family reunions for the first time in more than three years.

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