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N. Korea, U.S.-led U.N. Command to meet Thursday

- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 14, 2010

SEOUL (AP) -- Talks between North Korea and the American-led U.N. Command have been rescheduled for Thursday after Pyongyang abruptly canceled a meeting to discuss the sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang.

Military officers from the two sides planned to meet Thursday morning at the Korean border village of Panmunjom, the U.N. Command said in a statement Wednesday. The talks originally were set for Tuesday, but the North canceled just before they were to start, requesting a delay for "administrative reasons." It later proposed they be held Thursday, and the U.N. Command accepted.

The talks would be the first such meeting since the March 26 sinking, which sharply raised tensions on the divided Korean peninsula. Forty-six South Korean sailors were killed.

An international investigation in May concluded that a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo that sank the 1,200-ton Cheonan near the tense Korean sea border. Pyongyang flatly denies it was responsible and has warned that any punishment would trigger war.

It wasn't clear how Thursday's talks would proceed. But South Korean media including the Yonhap news agency have said that the North is expected to reiterate that South Korea and the United States have fabricated the investigation results, while the U.N. Command likely will demand Pyongyang refrain from any provocations and punish those responsible for the sinking.

The U.N. Command, which oversees an armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953, separately investigated whether the sinking violated the truce, though the findings have not been disclosed.

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 United States for allegedly trying to meddle in inter-Korean affairs under the name of the United Nations. But it reversed its position last week and proposed working-level talks at Panmunjom to prepare for higher-level talks by general officers on the sinking.

North Korea and the U.N. Command launched general-level talks in 1998 as a measure to lessen tension between the sides. If a new round is realized, they would be the 17th of their kind, according to the U.N. command.

The U.S. stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War, which ended in an armistice that has never been replaced with a permanent peace treaty.

The U.N. Security Council on Friday approved a statement that condemned the sinking but stopped short of directly blaming North Korea.

On Wednesday, the North reiterated its accusations that South Korea and the United States faked evidence to implicate the regime in the sinking. "Lies and fabrications can no longer work in this bright world," the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

 

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