Wednesday, February 9, 2011

South Korea and North Korea hold first military talks since island attack

Military officers from South and North Korea held preliminary talks Tuesday to lay groundwork for a higher-level meeting, officials here said, the first inter-Korean dialogue since the North's deadly bombardment of a South Korean border island.

   The talks at the border truce village of Panmunjom recessed as of 10:54 a.m. after nearly an hour-long morning session, said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman at the South's Defense Ministry. Kim said the two sides resumed the talks at 2 p.m. after having lunch.

   "Both sides have been discussing the agenda and process for a higher-level meeting," Kim said. "The atmosphere was serious, and there were no political arguments from the two sides."

   The colonel-level talks are aimed at setting the date, place and agenda for higher-level talks, possibly at the level of defense ministers.

   But the South's defense ministry said it won't agree to ministerial-level talks unless North Korea apologizes and takes "responsible measures" for the Nov. 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the torpedo attack of a South Korean warship last March.

   "Our stance has not changed," Kim told reporters earlier in the day. "A higher-level military meeting will be possible only if North Korea takes responsible measures for the attacks on Yeonpyeong Island and the Cheonan warship and promises not to carry out any more provocations."

   The preliminary talks are led by Col. Moon Sang-gyun of the South and Col. Ri Son-kwon of the North, who have served as representatives for working-level military talks from each side for years.