Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Military talks between two Koreas collapse
Military talks aimed at easing high tensions between North and South Korea collapsed on Wednesday when the North’s delegation walked out, Seoul’s defense ministry said.
It was the first cross-border dialogue since the North’s deadly shelling of a South Korean island on November 23, which briefly sparked fears of war.
A ministry spokesman told Agence France-Presse the North’s negotiators crossed the borderline 10 minutes after walking out of the meeting.
“They even failed to discuss when to meet again,” he said, adding that he had no immediate details of the cause of the breakdown.
Seoul had been demanding an apology for two border incidents last year—the North’s alleged torpedoing of a warship in March and the shelling of Yeongpyeong island near the disputed Yellow Sea border in November—which killed a total of 50 South Koreans.
The working-level talks at the border village of Panmunjom had been intended to set the date and agenda for higher-level military dialogue.
“The talks collapsed over differences over the agenda for high-level talks,” a defense ministry official was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.
On Wednesday morning, the South said that it had agreed in principle to hold separate Red Cross talks on reunions for separated families, but it linked those talks to progress in the military dialogue.
The South insisted that the proposed high-level military talks should discuss both the warship sinking and the shelling. It stressed that better relations would come only after the North apologizes and punishes those responsible for them, a defense ministry statement said.
But the North proposed that the agenda should focus on “the stoppage of all military actions that can be considered as provocative acts by the other side.”
Pyongyang flatly denies any involvement in the sinking of the South’s warship.
It said that its attack on Yeonpyeong was in response to a South Korean live-fire drill there, which dropped shells into waters claimed by the North.
The South’s unification ministry said separately that it has accepted in principle the North’s proposal for Red Cross talks on family reunions and other humanitarian issues.
The date and venue should be agreed after the military talks are wrapped up, a spokesman said, reiterating the South’s call for the North to take “responsible measures” over the shelling and the warship sinking.
Tens of thousands of Koreans were separated from family members during the 1950 to 1953 war. The occasional temporary reunions bring together only a fraction of those seeking to meet loved ones.
After the island attack, the South staged a series of military drills and began fortifying its frontline islands.
The North in response warned of nuclear war, but abruptly changed tack in January and launched a series of appeals for dialogue with the South.