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Asia-Pacific
N Korea and UN begin ship talks
US-led UN Command and Pyongyang discuss the sinking in March of South Korean warship.
Last Modified: 15 Jul 2010 10:27 GMT
The North is accused of firing a torpedo at the Cheonan, in which 46 sailors were killed [Reuters]

North Korea's military has held its first talks with the US-led UN Command over the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

The two sides met for 90 minutes on Thursday at the border village of Panmunjom to discuss the sinking, according to a spokesman for the UN Command, which has supported South Korea's military since the 1950-53 war.

The talks, details of which were not available, were said to be aimed to arrange a later meeting at a general level.

South Korea, the US and other nations, citing the findings of a multinational investigation, accuse the North of firing a torpedo which sank the Cheonan frigate in March with the loss of 46 lives.

The North vehemently denies the allegations and has threatened a military response to any attempts to punish it.

'Diplomatic victory'

Media reports said the North was likely at the higher-level talks to repeat its claim that the multinational probe was a fabrication.

The UN Command is also expected to present the results of the investigation and assert that the sinking near the tense Yellow Sea border was a serious breach of the 1953 armistice which ended the Korean War.

in depth

 

Q&A: Tensions on the Korean peninsula
  Your Views: North and South Korea
  Video: S Korea urged to toughen stance
  Video: S Korea vows action over sinking
  Focus: North Korea, a state of war
  Background: China's Korean balancing act 

Last week, the UN Security Council issued a statement which condemned the attack but did not blame North Korea - a move hailed by the North as a "great diplomatic victory".

The statement had been watered down under pressure from China, Pyongyang's key ally.

Leonid Petrov, a lecturer in Korean studies at the University of Sydney, said there were "plenty of points to discuss".

"It's not only Cheonan, denuclearisation, military exercises. I think the agenda is pretty full," he told Al Jazeera.

Petrov said the meeting could pave the way for North Korea's return to six-party nuclear talks.

"I believe that North Korea realises [this is] a good opportunity to discuss bilaterally with Americans [a] long list of points which they have been planning to talk about for years," he said.

Naval exercises

Last week, North Korea said it was willing to return to the nuclear disarmament talks it abandoned 18 months ago, saying it will make "consistent efforts" for a peace treaty.

The disarmament talks involving North and South Korea, the US, Japan, Russia and China have been in limbo since December 2008.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, announced on Wednesday it would go ahead with joint naval exercises with South Korea aimed at sending a warning to the North, despite strong protests from China.

North Korea routinely denounces all drills between the South and its US ally as preparations for war.

On Saturday it threatened "strong physical retaliation" if the two countries persist in "demonstration of forces and sanctions" despite the UN statement.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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