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N Korea holds more talks with US-led forces
Seoul, Mar 5 (Agencies):
Published on 6 Mar. 2009 12:18 AM IST
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Military officers from North Korea and the US-led UN Command held more talks on Thursday on easing tensions as the communist state renewed claims that an upcoming military exercise is a prelude to war. The colonel-level meeting set the agenda for a second round of talks at general-level on Friday, the United Nations Command said in a statement. The meeting at Panmunjom, inside the Demilitarised Zone which splits North and South Korea, lasted for 45 minutes, a Command spokesman said. Generals from the two sides met on Monday for the first such talks in almost seven years, but sources said the North used the occasion to criticise the March 09-20 military drill. The annual joint exercise will this year involve a US aircraft carrier, 26,000 US troops and more than 30,000 South Korean soldiers. The "slightest" military conflict which may break out during the exercise can rapidly develop into "a thermonuclear war," the North's government newspaper Minju Joson said Thursday. North Korea is ready for "merciless and powerful retaliatory actions," it said. Fears of a border clash have grown after the North on January 30 scrapped peace accords with Seoul and warned of war. North Korea 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. A US-led UN force fought for the South in the 1950-53 Korean War. The United States still stations 28,500 troops to back up Seoul's 680,000-strong military against the North's 1.1 million-member armed forces. Pyongyang complains each year about the exercise, which the UN Command says is purely defensive. But tensions are higher than normal this year 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. 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.

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