North Korea on DMZ tensions: We're sorry but not guilty

Story highlights

  • South Korea blasted North with propaganda from loudspeakers after landmine incident
  • North Korea gets particularly offended by insults to its leadership
  • Pyongyang official says saying sorry was not an admission of guilt

Pyongyang (CNN)Last month South Korea accused the North of being responsible for a landmine explosion that injured two South Korean soldiers along the heavily fortified border that separates the two neighbors.

The incident triggered a series of events that saw tensions in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) reach boiling point, with some fearing a potential military confrontation.
The South's initial response to the landmine incident had been to set up huge loudspeakers on their side of the DMZ that blared propaganda and K-pop into the North.
    It may have seemed mild in comparison but it produced a significant reaction -- Pyongyang announced it was mobilizing its army, putting it at a state of war preparedness. It then fired rockets at one of the loudspeaker banks. They missed, causing no injuries, but the stage was set for a serious showdown.
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    Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, the North proposed a high level meeting. Marathon talks ensued and in the end Pyongyang appeared to issue an apology. Tensions eased and an agreement was even reached to resume meetings this coming October between members of families separated by the Korean War more than 60 years ago.
    A potentially explosive incident somehow ended positively. The CNN team currently inside North Korea met up with Park Yong Chol, Deputy Director of the DPRK Research Institute for National Reunification in Pyongyang to get the North Korean perspective on what actually happened.

    We didn't do it and we didn't apologize

    The South said the North had deliberately planted the mines in the days before the explosion, along a patrol path the South Korean soldiers were known to take, in a calculated attempt to cause harm. Fragments of the landmines show they were of North Korean manufacture. But Park summarily dismissed the claim.
    "We have characterized it as a suspicious incident, but we have made it very clear that it had nothing to do with us," he said, before pointing out that expressing regret that soldiers had been injured was not an admission of responsibility. However, he did not explain how the mines had actually got there in the first place.
    "That is why we are calling it suspicious."
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    Propaganda War

    Propaganda wars between the two Koreas are nothing new. The weapons used are enormous banks of loudspeakers on each side of the DMZ, sending music, slogans and news reports several kilometers into the other side's territory. 
    These broadcasts are particularly unbearable for the North, as they directly attack the country's leadership -- what is referred to here as the country's "Supreme Dignity." These broadcasts were discontinued by both sides in 2004 during the so-called "Sunshine Period" of improved relations between the two.
    Their resumption was seen as a huge insult and an attempt to destabilize the regime. "Through the loudspeakers they slandered our system and they infringed upon our Supreme Dignity," Park said. "Our military almost decided to go to war -- they were very eager to confront the enemy in another major conflagration."

    Kim Jong Un the peacemaker

    But just when the situation seemed to be spiraling out of control, Pyongyang proposed high level talks between the two militaries.
    "The situation was two trains on a collision course," Park said, "If our respected Marshal has not been there to resolve the issue no-one could have prevent the two trains from smashing into each other.  Now we have favorable conditions from the agreement, and will resume the North-South reunions of separated families."

    A responsible nuclear power?

    The reason that Kim Jong Un stepped in to defuse the situation, he says, was to preserve the peace and security for the entire Korean nation -- North and South -- with his sense of the nation's responsibility as a nuclear power.
    "There are not many nuclear powers in the world -- these nuclear powers have an important mission to safeguard peace and security in any region of the world. We tried to resolve the situation with our strong sense of duty as a nuclear power."
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    The image of Kim Jong Un as a peacemaker may seem at odds with previous fiery statements from the nation's official news agency KCNA, which regularly announces that North Korea is ready to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. -- seen as its mortal enemy -- at any point.
    But Park preferred to downplay the rhetoric.
    "Such official statements are simply our official position that we have been constantly under military threat from the United States. They are not tantamount to making a declaration of war or threats of a preemptive nuclear strike against the U.S.
    "The fact that we are a nuclear power does not mean we are going to use our nuclear weapons randomly."