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North, South Korea at Odds Over Meeting Site - 2004-03-15

North Korea failed to show up for working-level economic talks that had been scheduled to open Monday in South Korea. North and South Korea are at odds over where to hold the meeting.

The talks had been scheduled to take place in Paju in South Korea. But the communist North on Sunday asked that they be moved to Kaesong in North Korea. Pyongyang said it was requesting the change of locations because of what it called South Korea's very unstable political situation.

South Korea's Unification Ministry rejected the change of venue, saying, despite the impeachment Friday of President Roh Moo-hyun, the country is not suffering from political instability. There have been nightly protests in the capital, Seoul, but no major unrest since the impeachment.

South Korean officials accuse Pyongyang of trying to exploit the political situation in the South by canceling the talks.

Unification Ministry spokesman Han Sang-iel says the North should promote, not disrupt, the inter-Korean talks and trade. The Unification Ministry says the officials from the North failed to turn up Monday at the truce village of Panmunjom for their entry into the South for the scheduled economic talks.

The ministry says the talks are now indefinitely postponed until it hears from North Korea. The talks were expected to focus on economic cooperation and transport links being built across the Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries.

South Korea's foreign minister has warned Pyongyang not to use the impeachment as a pretext for delaying six-way talks on the North's nuclear program. Mr. Ban Ki-moon says the North Korean nuclear issue and South Korea's political turmoil are totally unrelated.

Mr. Roh was impeached by the opposition dominated National Assembly on charges of illegal campaigning and incompetence.

The Constitutional Court has six months to decide whether to uphold the impeachment vote. In the meantime, Prime Minister Goh Kun is acting president.

In its reaction to the impeachment, North Korea put blame on the United States. North Korean state television says Mr. Roh's impeachment was an obvious political coup d'etat orchestrated by the United States. The official North Korean news agency, without elaborating, said Washington had been planning the impeachment since October.

South Korea's financial markets appeared to be recovering Monday from Friday's unprecedented impeachment vote. Stock prices opened higher after Friday's tumble. The won, the country's currency, gained against the U.S. dollar while the benchmark yield on government bonds rose, as well.

Market observers say foreign investors on Monday appeared to be taking a wait-and-see attitude but were net sellers of stock.