Seoul (Agencies): North and South Korean military officers met at their heavily equipped border on Tuesday for the first cross-border discussions in over four months, in a bid to resolve tensions on the divided peninsula.

Two deadly attacks against the South last year, and the North's revelations of key advances in its nuclear programme, escalated tensions to their highest level in years and caused jitters in financial markets as the risk of war rose.

Under pressure from Washington and Beijing, the South and North's respective main alliances, the neighbours have toned down their combative rhetoric and agreed to talk.

The inter-Korean dialogue has also raised the opportunity of a resumption of stalled aid-for-disarmament negotiations.

A Defence Ministry official in Seoul said the preliminary round of military talks had started at the truce village of Panmunjom, and that they could take numerous hours.

The colonel-level talks are aimed at setting the time and plan for more high-level talk, possibly between their defence ministers. Officials said it may take many rounds of working-level talks to prepare for the senior meeting.

The meeting is the first dialogue between the opponents since November, when the North bombarded a South Korean island in disputed waters off the west coast.

Last March, South Korea blamed the North of torpedoing one of its navy ships, killing 46 sailors.

Refuting the charges, Pyongyang said the South provoked the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island by firing artillery rounds into its water during a military drill.

Tensions simmered through December as both rivals exchanged war-like rhetoric, worrying financial markets in a place that boasts one-sixth of the world's economy and is home to the world's second and third largest economies.

Regional powers have asked restraint and nudged the rivals back to the negotiating table, saying that inter-Korean talk is a necessary prerequisite to a resumption of six-party aid-for-disarmament discussions.

The impoverished North walked out of the six-party talks two years back, declaring the forum dead, but over the past six months has been pushing for the process to be restarted.