01:40 - Source: CNN
North Korea releases Kim Jong Un photos

Story highlights

North and South Korea hold their highest-level meeting in seven years

Recent tension springs in part from propaganda balloons South activists flew over North

A South Korean spokesman described the meeting as a kind of goodwill measure

Meeting is latest unusual N. Korea move at a time its leader hasn't been seen

CNN —  

It started with balloons. But the latest strife between North and South Korea hasn’t been resolved, despite a meeting between top military leaders from both countries Wednesday at the Panmunjom border site – their highest-level talks in seven years.

The meeting is just the latest unusual and intriguing move North Korea has taken, heightening a growing mystery about what exactly is going on in the secretive nation.

The most recent battle between the uneasy neighbors springs in part from the release of balloons carrying anti-Kim Jong Un messages. Activists from South Korea set the balloons to fly over North Korea, which responded by shooting them down. Then the two sides exchanged fire.

At a news conference in Seoul, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry portrayed Wednesday’s talks as a goodwill measure, even as both sides largely reiterated their positions.

“The meeting today, because there was a strong will to improve ties between the South and North, it was carried out in an earnest atmosphere,” said Kim Min-seok.

“Because this was the first such meeting, positions from each side could not be narrowed down,” Kim said, adding that there was no set date for any further meetings.

A missing leader and an overture to the U.N.

The meeting happened this week amid speculation over the whereabouts of Kim Jong Un, who hasn’t been seen in public since September 3, when he attended a concert with his wife.

On Tuesday, North Korean state media published the first pictures of Kim in more than a month, in an apparent attempt to quash rumors that something may be awry.

Some wonder if his absence could mean a power shift is imminent, while others speculate that it might indicate the so-called “Dear Leader” is ill.

Read more: Is Jong Un still in charge?

KCNA reported that in the photos, Kim was seen giving “field guidance” to a newly built residential district and had visited the Natural Energy Institute of the State Academy of Sciences.

Perhaps also to detract from talk about Kim’s whereabouts, North Korean officials made the very rare move of taking questions at the United Nations and coordinating talks about human rights with the European Union.

Read more: Why has North Korea decided to talk now?

Their overture to discuss human rights came after a U.N. Commission of Inquiry issued a report detailing abuses in North Korea that investigators said were tantamount to crimes against humanity.

The report said Pyongyang leaders commit murder and torture and enslave people and enact sexual violence and mass starvation against its own people to prop up the state. One women held in a prison in North Korea said she gave birth under the grimmest of conditions and when her baby wouldn’t stop crying, she was beaten by a guard as punishment.

The woman claims, according to the report, that she was forced to hold her infant under water until it died.

North Korean leaders terrorize “the population into submission,” according to the commission’s findings. The panel said it would refer the findings to the International Criminal Court.

The commission also sent a letter to Kim saying that he could be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

Read more: ‘Abundant evidence’ of North Korea crimes against humanity

From CNN’s Madison Park in Hong Kong and KJ Kwon in Seoul, South Korea