- Associated Press - Thursday, July 15, 2010

SEOUL (AP) — North Korea’s military renewed its call for its own investigation into the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March as it met Thursday with the U.S.-led U.N. Command for the first time since the incident raised tensions on the Korean peninsula.

An international investigation in May concluded a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo that sank the 1,200-ton Cheonan near the tense Korean sea border, killing 46 South Korean sailors.

At the talks, the North’s officers stressed that Pyongyang’s inspectors should be permitted to go to the site of the sinking to verify those results, according to state media. Seoul so far has rejected the North’s request.

“Field investigation by an inspection group … should precede under any circumstances to ensure the successful opening of the general-level talks,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch.

Colonel-level officers gathered Thursday at the Korean border village of Panmunjom for about 90 minutes and discussed the hosting of higher-level talks to discuss the sinking, the U.N. Command said in a statement. The two sides agreed to hold the second colonel-level meeting in Panmunjom around July 20, KCNA said.

Thursday’s talks came a week after the U.N. Security Council approved a statement that condemned the sinking but stopped short of directly blaming North Korea.

South Korea and the United States have called the sinking a violation of the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953, while Pyongyang flatly denies it was responsible and has warned any punishment would trigger war.

The U.N. Command, which oversees the armistice, separately investigated whether the sinking violated the truce, though those 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.

The United States 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 United States and South Korea likely will forge ahead with military exercises in the Yellow Sea in response to North Korea’s alleged attack on the warship, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Wednesday.

China reiterated Thursday its opposition to the U.S.-South Korean naval exercises, saying the actions would threaten Chinese interests and unsettle an already tense region.

“We firmly oppose any foreign warships and airplanes conducting activities undermining China’s security interests in the Yellow Sea and China’s coastal waters,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing at a routine media briefing.

Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Gillian Wong in Beijing contributed to this report.


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