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Asia-Pacific
Rival Koreas resume military talks
Meeting at heavily armed border is first since North Korea attacked a southern island in November.
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2011 08:06 GMT
Tuesday's meeting between the nations was the first since the North's attack on Yeonpyeong in November 2010 [EPA

Military officers from the rival Koreas have met at their heavily armed border for their first talks since North Korea attacked a southern island in November.

Tuesday's talks were an attempt to restart the six-way talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear-weapons programme, last held more than two years ago when the North walked out, announcing the process dead.

Ri Son-kwon, a North Korean colonel, shook hands with his counterpart from the South, Moon Sang-gyun, before they started negotiations at the Panmunjom truce village.

The pair have met several times over the years.

"When they (North Korea) need something, which usually means money, they first drive tensions high, then switch to the charm offensive and start talks in order to get something," Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, said. 

"If they do not get what they need, they turn the switch back to the confrontational mood."

The meeting is the first between the rivals since November, when the North bombarded the island of Yeonpyeong in disputed waters off the west coast, killing four people.

South Korea also accused the North of torpedoing one of its navy ships, killing 46 sailors, in March.

Pyongyang denied involvement and says the South provoked the shelling of Yeonpyeong by firing artillery rounds into its water during a military drill.

The defence ministry in Seoul gave no further details about Tuesday's meeting.

Under pressure from the US and China, host of the six-party talks, the neighbours have toned down their combative rhetoric over the past month and agreed to talk.

Technically at war

The two Koreas are still technically at war, because an armistice not a treaty ended their 1950-53 civil conflict, and have been involved in dozens of deadly confrontations over the years, including cross-border commando raids, political assassinations, an airliner bombing and military clashes. 

China and the US had set inter-Korean dialogue as a prerequisite to restart six-party talks.

The North has said it wants to return to six-party negotiations, but the South and the US have questioned its sincerity about denuclearising - pointing to its revelations last November about a uranium enrichment programme as proof.

Pyongyang says the uranium programme, which potentially opens a second route to make an atomic bomb after its plutonium programme, is for peaceful energy-making purposes.

South Korea and the US want the UN Security Council to punish the North for the programme because it contravenes past resolutions, whereas Beijing favours dealing with the matter in the six-party talks which also involve Japan and Russia.

Security council resolutions

The US and South Korea are expected to take the issue to the UN Security Council this month, but experts say Beijing, which is a permanent member of the Security Council, is unlikely to back any new resolution against the North.

The South's Wi Sung-lac is due to visit Beijing on Thursday to discuss the best approach to deal with the North.

Seoul also says its poor neighbour, squeezed by UN sanctions for nuclear and missile tests, only wants to restart six-party talks to get aid.

The South says it will only resume economic help when the North totally dismantles its atomic programme.

Tuesday's colonel-level talks are aimed at setting the time and agenda for higher-level dialogue, possibly between their defence ministers.

Officials say it may take several rounds.

Source:
Agencies
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