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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

South Korea to remove propaganda loudspeakers at border

The two Koreas had been engaged in Cold War-era psychological warfare since 2016

A South Korean military vehicle with loudspeakers is seen in front of the barbed-wire fence in Paju, near the border with North Korea. South Korea on Monday said it will remove propaganda-broadcasting loudspeakers from the tense border with North Korea. Ahn Young-joon / AP
A South Korean military vehicle with loudspeakers is seen in front of the barbed-wire fence in Paju, near the border with North Korea. South Korea on Monday said it will remove propaganda-broadcasting loudspeakers from the tense border with North Korea. Ahn Young-joon / AP

South Korea will remove propaganda-broadcasting loudspeakers from the border with North Korea this week, officials said on Monday, as the rivals move to follow through with their leaders' summit declaration that produced reconciliation steps without a breakthrough in the nuclear standoff.

During their historic meeting on Friday at a Korean border village, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to end hostile acts against each other along their tense border, establish a liaison office and resume reunions of separated families. They also agreed to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, but failed to produce specific time frames and disarmament steps.

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Seoul's Defence Ministry said it would pull back dozens of its front-line loudspeakers on Tuesday before media cameras. Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyunsoo Seoul expects Pyongyang to do the same.

South Korea had already turned off its loudspeakers ahead of Friday's summit talks, and North Korea responded by halting its own broadcasts.

The two Koreas had been engaged in Cold War-era psychological warfare since the North's fourth nuclear test in early 2016. Seoul began blaring anti-Pyongyang broadcasts and K-Pop songs via border loudspeakers, and Pyongyang quickly matched the South's action with its own border broadcasts and launches of balloons carrying anti-South leaflets.

Seoul's announcement came a day after it said Mr Kim told Mr Moon during the summit that he would shut down his country's only known nuclear testing site and allow outside experts and journalists to watch the process.

South Korean officials also cited Mr Kim as saying he would be willing to give up his nuclear programmes if the United States committed to a formal end to the Korean War and a pledge not to attack the North. Mr Kim had already suspended his nuclear and missile tests while offering to put his nukes up for negotiations.

The closing of the Punggy-ri test site, where all six of North Korea's atomic bomb tests occurred, could be an eye-catching disarmament step by Pyongyang. But there is still deep scepticism over whether Mr Kim is truly willing to negotiate away the nukes that his country has built after decades of struggle and sacrifice.

According to a summit accord, Mr Kim and Mr Moon agreed to achieve "a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearisation" rather than clearly stating "a nuclear-free North Korea". Pyongyang has long said the term "denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula" must include the United States pulling its 28,500 troops out of South Korea and removing its so-called "nuclear umbrella" security commitment to South Korea and Japan.

Mr Kim could offer more disarmament concessions during his meeting with President Donald Trump, expected in May or June, but it's unclear what specific steps he would take. Some experts say Mr Kim may announce scrapping North Korea's long-range missile program, which has posed a direct threat to the United States.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton reacted coolly to word that Mr Kim would abandon his weapons if the United States pledged not to invade.

Asked on CBS's Face the Nation whether the US would make such a promise, Mr Bolton said: "Well, we've heard this before. This is — the North Korean propaganda playbook is an infinitely rich resource. What we want to see from them is evidence that it's real and not just rhetoric."

Mr Kim's meeting with Mr Moon was his second summit with a foreign leader since he took office in late 2011. In March, he travelled to Beijing and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. While meeting with Mr Xi, Mr Kim suggested he preferred a step-by-step disarmament process in line with corresponding outside rewards, according to Chinese state media. US officials want the North to take complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament measures.

China said Monday that Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit Pyongyang on Wednesday and Thursday.

China is the North's only major economic partner, but trade has declined by about 90 per cent following Beijing's implementation of economic sanctions imposed over the North's nuclear and missile tests. Some analysts say Mr Kim's recent charm offensive was aimed at weakening the sanctions.