SEOUL, SEPT. 5 -- The prime ministers of South Korea and rival North Korea a second session of talks today, with no progress visible on key issues, as their historic encounter became mired in political discord and shoving matches.
A sideshow of scuffles involving North Korean journalists seemed to symbolize the faltering state of the highest-level negotiations ever held between the Korean regimes.
In one incident, a North Korean journalist reportedly accused a South Korean television reporter and cameraman of being security agents and, with several comrades, allegedly shoved the South Koreans and stole their film.
Outside the Intercontinental Hotel, where the talks are taking place, a group of North Korean journalists either got in the way by mistake or intentionally tried to block police from arresting several radical students unfurling a banner. A South Korean official denied reports that the North Koreans were physically pushed away by the police, who detained four students as others fled.
North Korea's main newspaper criticized the South Korean government for allegedly biased stories in Seoul dailies. "They have no intention to work toward finding a solution to the urgent pending problems, including the question of holding the North-South high-level talks smoothly," the Rodong Shinmun said in an editorial.
South Korean Unification Minister Hong Sung Chul said the Seoul delegation will try to focus Thursday's talks on the areas in which the rival delegations are not hopelessly opposed. State-controlled radio reported that Prime Ministers Yon Hyong Muk from North Korea and Kang Young Hoon from South Korea met privately tonight to work out an accord on several issues.
"We will try to seek an agreement which we can implement right away, such as ending slanders against each other," said Minister Hong.
Although Yon and his entourage of 89 officials and journalists arrived in Seoul Tuesday and leave Friday, only four hours of formal talks have been scheduled. Much of the visitors' time is spent at banquets, movies and cultural excursions.
South Korea's conservative leadership, which gained international prestige and new friends through the Seoul Olympics, seems most concerned about showing skeptics among its 40 million citizens that it wants reconciliation with North Korea.
The prime ministers' meeting, even if lacking in progress or content, fulfills that crucial electoral task, diplomats say, noting that many key officials despise North Korea and want to remain distant until communism crumbles there.
Stalinist North Korea seems more concerned about international reaction. It agreed to the talks partly because it wanted to please such wavering allies as the Soviet Union, a key supplier of economic and military aid that is now moving toward diplomatic ties with South Korea, according to many diplomats. Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze held talks in Pyongyang on Sunday and Monday.
North Korea seemed to stress its demands that Seoul release three dissidents jailed for visiting Pyongyang, cancel U.S. military exercises and share a single United Nations seat with North Korea.
Today Yon, the North Korean prime minister, outlining his side's blueprint for reconciliation, called for a phased withdrawal from the South of American troops and the nuclear weapons believed to be in their arsenal -- proposals that Seoul long ago rejected. South Korea has said it will not release the jailed dissidents, even though international human rights groups also have protested their detention.
South Korea's Kang demanded that North Korea cut its armed forces from what it says is a level of 900,000 troops to about 600,000 -- the size of South Korea's forces. North Korea says its army is not larger than South Korea's and calls on both sides immediately to reduce their forces to 300,000 and eventually to 100,000.
Both prime ministers -- who serve under powerful presidents -- called for free travel across the border. But their governments have said this before, and just two weeks ago they failed to arrange a trial opening that each side publicly backed.
Although Korea was a single nation for more than a millennium, its division since the end of World War II has been complete, with the border heavily militarized and sealed, except for a single exchange of visits by separated families in 1985.