Inter-Korean talks collapse

2011-02-09 14:05

Seoul - Military talks aimed at easing high tensions between North and South Korea collapsed on Wednesday when the North's delegation walked out, Seoul's defence ministry said.

The two sides had been meeting for the first time since the North's deadly shelling of a South Korean island on November 23, which briefly sparked fears of war.

A ministry spokesperson told AFP the North's negotiators walked out of the meeting in the border village of Panmunjom and crossed the frontier 10 minutes later.

"They even failed to discuss when to meet again," he said. "Under the current situation, we can say the talks have collapsed."

A ministry official quoted by YTN television said the atmosphere "was quite charged with emotion".

The ministry said the two sides failed to agree on the agenda for a proposed higher-level military meeting, with the South demanding an apology at that meeting for two bloody border incidents last year.

Four people including civilians died in the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island near the disputed Yellow Sea border. The South also accuses the North of torpedoing a warship last March with the loss of 46 lives, a charge it denies.

International pressure

Earlier on Wednesday the South agreed in principle to hold separate Red Cross talks on reunions for separated families. But the unification ministry said these talks could not now go ahead.

"As military talks will not be held, we cannot start discussions on the resumption of Red Cross dialogue," said ministry spokesperson Lee Jong-Joo.

The island bombardment was the first such attack on a civilian area since the 1950-53 war. The South says the North must apologise both for the shelling and the warship sinking and punish those responsible.

The North, however, proposed that higher-level talks focus on stopping all military actions that can be considered provocative by the other side.

Pyongyang flatly denies involvement in the sinking of the South's warship.

It says its attack on Yeonpyeong was in response to a South Korean live-fire drill there, which dropped shells into waters claimed by the North.

North and South had agreed to talk soon after their respective superpower patrons, China and the United States, called jointly for inter-Korean dialogue.

Dongguk University Professor Kim Yong-Hyun predicted the North would make a fresh offer of talks.

"Both sides are now under international pressure to continue dialogue," he told AFP.

"I don't think the collapse of talks will escalate tensions again. After a cooling-off period, I believe the North will make a fresh proposal for a new round of military talks."

After predictions late last year of nuclear war on the peninsula, the North abruptly changed tack in January and launched a spate of appeals for dialogue.


Some analysts say the events fit a pattern in which the North manufactures a crisis, and then suggests negotiations in hopes of aid concessions.

South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said on Wednesday that a North Korean diplomat, at a meeting in New York last month, had asked the United States to resume the food aid it suspended in 2009.

China for its part is striving to revive six-party talks that offer the North economic and diplomatic benefits in return for nuclear disarmament.

The United States, also a forum member along with the two Koreas, Japan and Russia, says the North must mend ties with the South before the nuclear dialogue can resume.

North and South were briefly "in the same bed but dreaming different dreams", said Hong Hyun-Ik of Seoul's Sejong Institute think-tank.

"The South believes the North's dire economic situation will force it to accept responsibility for the incidents, but the North cannot swallow its pride for the sake of opening talks with the South," Hong told AFP.

"The North will now say to the US and China that it did all it could have done to resume dialogue with the South."