Military talks between North and South Korea end without deal

The North requested the meeting - the first in over three years - after its forces shot down balloons released by activists in the South carrying leaflets with messages critical of Kim Jong-un and following a naval clash at sea

Jack Kim,Ju-Min Park
Thursday 16 October 2014 06:43
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North Korean delegation chief Kim Yong Chol meets his South Korean counterpart, Ryu Je-seung
North Korean delegation chief Kim Yong Chol meets his South Korean counterpart, Ryu Je-seung

The first military talks between North and South Korea in more than three years has ended with no agreement, with the rivals failing to narrow their differences on how to ease animosities following two shooting incidents last week, South Korean officials said.

North Korea’s military fired shots on Friday at balloons released by a private activist group from the South carrying leaflets with messages critical of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Some bullets landed in South Korea and its military fired back.

Earlier last week, the two sides exchanged fire after a North Korean patrol boat crossed a sea border that the North has long disputed, in an area where naval clashes have in the past killed scores of sailors on both sides. There were no reports of casualties from either incident.

The military officials met today at the request of North Korea at the Panmunjom truce village on their fortified border, said the South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok.

“The mood of the meeting was sincere as both sides were serious about improving ties, but this was the first meeting [in a while] and there was a difference in view that we were not able to narrow,” he said.

The North Korean officials demanded that South Korean navy vessels refrain from crossing what it sees as the sea border. They also called for a halt to the release of the balloons carrying leaflets by the South Korean activists, Mr Kim said. North Korea has long criticised the leaflet drops as provocative and it had threatened to respond to them with force.

North Korea’s state media said on Saturday that expected talks with the South to try to improve ties were in danger of being cancelled because the activists had been allowed to launch their balloons.

South Korea says it has no legal justification to stop the activities of private groups.

One activist who has launched such leaflets is Lee Min-bok, who said police had stopped him from launching balloons on Saturday – the day after the exchange of fire.

Having defected from the North to South Korea, via China and Russia in 1995, Mr Lee, 57, has been launching about 50 million leaflets a year for a decade. He stuffs satchels with thousands of vinyl flyers criticising North Korea, instant noodle packs, and sometimes $1 notes and USB sticks with South Korean soap operas and launches them using hot-air balloons from near the border.

“My balloons are the way to achieve peace and unification and tell North Koreans the truth,” Mr Lee said.

North Korea has agreed to resume dialogue that was suspended in February, raising hopes of a breakthrough in relations. South Korea proposed 30 October for a meeting to discuss allowing reunions of families separated during the Korean War, and to discuss sanctions on North Korea imposed after clashes in 2010 that killed soldiers and civilians in the South.

Reuters; AP

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