Seoul (AFP) March 3, 2009
North Korea Tuesday denounced an upcoming US-South Korean military exercise as a prelude to war, a day after holding rare top-level military talks to ease tensions with Seoul and its allies.
Follow-up talks will be held this week, even though sources said the North used Monday's 32-minute meeting to criticise next week's military drill.
Fears of a border clash have grown after the North on January 30 scrapped peace accords with Seoul and warned of war.
It is also preparing to fire a rocket for what it calls a satellite launch, although Seoul and Washington say the real purpose is to test a missile that could theoretically reach Alaska.
Minju Joson, Pyongyang's government newspaper, said the March 9-20 exercise in South Korea aimed to ignite war and warned that the North's army would "firmly crush" any provocations.
The drill "is a serious military threat to our republic and also an extremely dangerous fire play aimed at provoking a new war," the paper said.
On Saturday the communist state's military warned US troops to stop "provocations" inside a border buffer zone or face retaliation.
Monday's talks at Panmunjom inside the zone were requested by the North. They were the first for almost seven years between generals from North Korea and from the US-led UN Command (UNC).
Yonhap news agency said the North and the UNC would hold a colonel-level meeting Wednesday and a second round of general-level talks on Friday.
A UNC spokesman said more talks would be held this week but gave no details.
In a statement, the UNC said delegates on Monday discussed ways to ease tensions and agreed to further talks. It said the dialogue could help build trust but gave no details of proceedings.
Sources told AFP the North's team had demanded a halt to the Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercise, which will involve a US aircraft carrier, 26,000 US troops and some 30,000-40,000 South Korean troops.
A US-led UN force fought for the South in the 1950-53 war. The United States still stations 28,500 troops to back up its 680,000-strong military against the North's 1.1 million-member armed forces.
Pyongyang complains each year about the exercise, which the UNC says is purely defensive. But tensions are higher than normal and Seoul's troops are on alert for possible border clashes.
The North is angry at South Korea's conservative leader Lee Myung-Bak, who scrapped his predecessors' policy of offering virtually unconditional aid to Pyongyang.
Analysts believe the North's threats against the South, and the planned missile launch, aim to press Lee to soften his policy and to grab the attention of the new US administration.
The new US envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, is touring China, Japan and South Korea this week. He will discuss ways to dissuade the North from a launch and try to persuade it to resume stalled nuclear disarmament talks.
earlier related report
Stephen Bosworth landed in Beijing for a visit that China said would include meetings with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and other top officials amid efforts to revive the stalled denuclearisation process.
Bosworth made no comments to reporters on his arrival but China's foreign ministry hoped the visit could help promote the six-nation disarmament effort.
"We hope we can take this opportunity to exchange views with the US... and jointly promote the six-party talks on denuclearising the Korean peninsula," ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.
Under a landmark deal in 2007 with the United States and its partners, North Korea agreed to scrap its weapons-grade nuclear programmes in exchange for badly needed energy aid.
But diplomats from the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan late last year hit a deadlock in the negotiations when North Korea baulked at demands to allow verification of disarmament moves.
Bosworth was to travel Thursday to Tokyo for talks with top Japanese officials.
He was then scheduled to fly on Saturday to Seoul, where he will meet Russian as well as South Korean officials, a spokewoman for the US embassy in Beijing told AFP.
The trip marks Bosworth's first involvement in the tortuous process, having recently taken over from Christopher Hill, the chief US negotiator on the issue under president George W. Bush.
Hill said last week that Bosworth, during his Asia visit, would also try to deter North Korea from test-firing a missile. Bosworth is due to return to the United States on March 10.
Pyongyang has said it is making brisk preparations to launch what it calls an experimental communications satellite. US officials fear it will amount to a test launch of a missile that could eventually carry a nuclear warhead.
Since they began in 2003, the six-party talks have proceeded in fits and starts amid repeated surprise demands by the mercurial North Korean regime, which detonated a nuclear device in 2006.
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N.Korea, UN hold talks amid border tensions
Seoul (AFP) March 2, 2009
Generals from North Korea and the US-led UN Command in South Korea met for talks Monday for the first time in almost seven years as tensions rise over Pyongyang's planned rocket launch.
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