- Associated Press - Monday, July 12, 2010

SEOUL | Military officers from North Korea and the American-led U.N. Command will hold rare talks Tuesday on the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship, the command said, their first meeting since the incident dramatically raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

An international investigation concluded in May that North Korea torpedoed the vessel, killing 46 sailors. Pyongyang flatly denies it was responsible and has warned any punishment would trigger war.

The U.N. Command, which oversees an armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953, separately investigated the March 26 sinking to find out whether it violated the truce, though details of that probe have not been made available.

Late last month, the command proposed military talks with North Korea to review its findings and initiate dialogue.

The North first rejected the offer, criticizing the U.S. for allegedly trying to meddle in inter-Korean affairs under the name of the U.N.

But Pyongyang changed its position last week and proposed working-level talks at the Korean border village of Panmunjom to prepare for higher-level talks on the sinking. The U.N. Command said in a statement Monday that the sides will meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

It wasn’t clear how the talks would proceed. But South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Monday that the North is expected to reiterate its accusation that South Korea and the U.S. faked evidence to link it to the sinking, which occurred near the tense inter-Korean sea border.

The U.N. command, for its part, likely will demand that Pyongyang refrain from any provocations and punish those responsible for the sinking, Yonhap said. The report did not cite any sources.

The North said Friday that it agreed to the military talks because South Korea had rebuffed its calls for direct inter-Korean discussions on the issue.

North Korea and the U.N. Command launched general-level talks in 1998 as a measure to lessen tension between the sides, the statement said. The meeting Tuesday would constitute the 17th of its kind, it said.

The U.S. stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War.