North Korea holds rare meeting with UN forces

AGENCIES , SEOUL

Tue, Mar 03, 2009 - Page 5

North Korean generals yesterday met the US-led UN military command in South Korea for the first time in about seven years after Pyongyang warned at the weekend that “arrogant” acts by US troops could spark a war.

Local news reports said the North had protested against joint US-South Korean military drills that will be held from next week, as well as the activities of US troops stationed in South Korea to support its soldiers.

“North Korea argued that holding the joint military training at a moment when the situation on the Korean peninsula is already tense would only raise more tension,” the South’s Yonhap news agency quoted a military source as saying.

NO DETAILS

The UN Command said the North requested the meeting but gave no details of the results of the talks held at the Panmunjom village inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that has divided the peninsula since the Korean War.

Pyongyang has stoked tensions in recent weeks by readying a test flight of its longest-range missile, which is designed to carry a weapon as far as Alaska but has never successfully flown, US and South Korean officials have said.

North Korea has also severed dialogue with the South and threatened to reduce its neighbor to ashes in anger at South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s policy of cutting off what once had been a free flow of unconditional aid and instead tying handouts to the North’s nuclear disarmament.

The North’s KCNA news agency on Saturday quoted a North Korean military official as saying in a note to the South Korean military: “If the US forces keep behaving arrogantly in the area under the control of the North and the South, the [North’s] Korean People’s Army will take a resolute counteraction.”

The official said US troops had come near the actual border several times over the past two months, warning such acts “may touch off unpredictable military conflicts.”

South Korea yesterday appointed a new chief negotiator for stalled six-party talks on North’s Korea’s nuclear disarmament.

Wi Sung-lac, special assistant to the foreign minister, has taken over the post, a foreign ministry statement said.

NUCLEAR ENVOY

He replaces Kim Sook, who was named last week as a deputy director of the National Intelligence Service after 10 months as chief nuclear envoy.

Wi, 54, a career diplomat since 1979, was minister for political affairs at the South Korean embassy in Washington from 2004 to 2007 after heading the foreign ministry’s North American affairs bureau from 2003 to 2004.

Washington last month also changed its top nuclear negotiator, with the long-serving Christopher Hill becoming ambassador to Iraq.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has named Stephen Bosworth to a new post of special envoy to North Korea, with Hill’s deputy Sung Kim becoming chief US delegate to the talks.