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N.Korea holds talks with UN Command amid military tensions

International Desk |
Update: 2010-08-10 02:04:46
N.Korea holds talks with UN Command amid military tensions

SEOUL: Army officers from North Korea and the US-led United Nations Command held talks Tuesday, amid high tensions on the Korean peninsula following the South`s war games and the North`s artillery fire.

The North fired some 130 shells into waters near the disputed inter-Korean sea border on Monday, in an apparent protest against a just-concluded South Korean anti-submarine drill.

About 10 of the shells landed on the South Korean side of the line, Seoul`s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday, prompting three warnings from the South to the other side.

The South`s largest-ever anti-submarine exercise was a show of force after Seoul accused its neighbour of torpedoing a South Korean warship in March near the contested border -- a charge the North fiercely denies.

Colonels from the North and the UN Command began closed-door talks at the border truce village of Panmunjom at 10:00 am (0100 GMT), a Command spokesman told AFP.

The UN body has been based in the South since the end of the 1950-53 war to enforce the armistice which ended the conflict.

The two sides met three times in July to discuss the warship sinking, which cost 46 lives.

At previous rounds the North demanded the right to send investigators to the South to inspect evidence dredged from the seabed, including what Seoul says is part of a North Korean torpedo.

South Korea has rejected the demand, saying the UN Command should handle the case as a serious breach of the armistice.

Tensions have been high since South Korea, the United States and other countries, citing the findings of a multinational investigation, accused the North in late May of sending a submarine to torpedo the corvette.

The North says it is the victim of a smear campaign and described the South`s military drill as a preparation for invasion, warning of "strong physical retaliation" for it.

The US State Department criticised the artillery barrage.

"It is not a helpful sign by North Korea and this is exactly the kind of behaviour that we would like to see North Korea avoid," said spokesman Philip Crowley.

Crowley said it was unclear what Pyongyang hoped to achieve by such "chest thumping" and said: "The firing of a very large number of rounds in the region is the last thing we want to see and is not the best way to reduce tension."

Relations worsened further after North Korea last weekend seized a South Korean fishing boat operating off the east coast.

Seoul has urged Pyongyang to free the 41-ton squid fishing boat and its seven crewmen -- four South Koreans and three Chinese -- as soon as possible.

The South`s coastguard has said the boat was presumed to have been operating in an exclusive economic zone proclaimed by the North when seized. There has been no word from Pyongyang on the incident.

China`s embassy in Pyongyang has expressed concern over the reported detention of the boat and crew, Xinhua news agency said.

If the report was confirmed, North Korea "should treat the Chinese crew members well with humanitarianism, guarantee their rights and interests, and inform the Chinese side", it quoted the diplomats as saying.

BDST: 0930 HRS, August 10, 2010

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