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North, South Korea Relax Defense Posture Following Deal

South Korean army soldiers ride on a truck in Paju, south of the demilitarized zone that divides the two Koreas, South Korea, Monday, Aug. 24, 2015.
South Korean army soldiers ride on a truck in Paju, south of the demilitarized zone that divides the two Koreas, South Korea, Monday, Aug. 24, 2015.

North Korea has reduced its military readiness posture, South Korea said Wednesday, after the two sides reached a deal to defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The North lifted its self-described "quasi-state of war" following the Tuesday agreement, the officials confirmed, adding Seoul reciprocated by relaxing its own defense stance.

Under the accord, North Korea expressed "regret" about a recent land mine explosion that injured two South Korean soldiers. In return, Seoul turned off its propaganda broadcasts into the North.

The two sides said they will resume reunions in September for families separated by the Cold War-era conflict. They also agreed to hold talks soon, either in Seoul or Pyongyang, about improving relations.

Seoul on Wednesday signaled those talks could include discussions on lifting sanctions that have been in place since May 24, 2010, following the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship.

"If the talks get underway between South and North Korea with regards to sanctions, I think the May 24 issue will be raised by the North," said Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee. "I think it's an issue that can totally be handled through dialogue."

Seoul has long insisted that before the sanctions are lifted, North Korea must apologize for the attack, which killed 46 South Korean sailors. Pyongyang denies involvement in the incident.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has been under increased domestic pressure to improve relations with the North, especially after tensions threatened to plunge the countries into war in recent weeks.

Both sides had deployed troops and armaments to increase military readiness and prepare for possible confrontation. The two Koreas last week even exchanged artillery fire near a loudspeaker tower on the border.

North Korea had threatened to attack the loudspeakers, after Seoul began using them to pump anti-Pyongyang messages into the North for the first time in 10 years. The propaganda broadcasts were widely seen as a response to the land mine incident.

On Wednesday, it appeared the tension was receding. North Korean security guards at the Panmunjom border village were now back to carrying their usual handguns, instead of rifles, Seoul officials said.

A large part of North Korea's submarine fleet, which had been deployed last week as part of the North's military build-up, has now returned, added the official.

Seoul officials stress, though, Pyongyang may not totally relax its defense posture until Friday, when joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises are set to end.

The United States has more than 28,000 soldiers based in South Korea and is currently conducting annual joint military exercises with the South. North Korea condemns these drills as rehearsals for invasion.

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