Wed, Feb 09, 2011 - Page 1 News List

North, South Korea extend talks after struggling to agree

AFP, SEOUL

North and South Korea struggled to settle differences yesterday in their first talks since the North’s deadly shelling of a South Korean island in November, but agreed to keep talking for a second day.

Military officers from the two sides met at the border village of Panmunjom to prepare for a planned higher-level military meeting at a date to be fixed, but disagreements over the agenda kept them haggling well into the evening.

The Nov. 23 bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island near the disputed Yellow Sea border killed two marines and two civilians, outraging Seoul and briefly sparking fears of full-scale war.

The South also accuses the North of torpedoing a warship near the maritime border in March last year, which killed 46 sailors, a charge Pyongyang denies.

Seoul’s team insisted that the upcoming meeting should discuss both attacks, a defense ministry spokesman said. The South wants the North at that meeting to apologize and punish those responsible.

The spokesman declined to confirm a Yonhap news agency report that the North “expressed its view” about the incidents and proposed a broad agenda on easing tensions.

Yonhap said the North also called for an end to cross-border leaflet launches by South Korean activists and accused South Korean warships of violating its territorial waters.

The two delegations agreed to meet again today, the spokesman said.

The South had said it saw yesterday’s meeting — in a building known as Peace House — as an opportunity to test the sincerity of its neighbor’s recent peace overtures.

After warning last year of nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, Pyongyang abruptly changed tack last month and launched a series of appeals for dialogue.

The turnaround came as its key ally China pressed for the revival of six-party nuclear disarmament talks to ease overall tensions. The North abandoned the negotiations — which offer economic and diplomatic benefits in return for denuclearization — in April 2009, but in recent months has expressed conditional interest in returning to them.

The US, which is also a forum member along with South Korea, Japan and Russia, says the North must mend ties with the South before the nuclear dialogue can resume. The North and South remain far apart on who is to blame for the months of confrontation.

The North flatly denies any involvement in sinking the South’s warship. It also says its artillery attack on Yeonpyeong was in response to a South Korean live-fire drill there, which dropped shells into waters claimed by the North.

“There is a possibility of the talks ending up confirming each other’s stance,” a military official was quoted as saying by Yonhap before the colonel-level discussions began. “The two sides may hold multiple rounds of the preliminary talks.”

The South staged a series of military drills after the shelling and began fortifying Yeonpyeong and four other “frontline” islands and reinforcing marines posted there.

A military source quoted by Yonhap said the military planned to increase the size of the marine corps by up to 2,000 to strengthen the islands’ defenses.

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