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February 08, 2011

Korean Military Talks Break Down

by Steve Herman

South Korea says two days of military talks with North have broken off with no agreement, setting back hopes for a thaw in tense relations between the two countries.

Officials offered no immediate explanation for the breakdown after colonels from the North and South Korean militaries met for a second day in the truce village of Panmunjom. After a session lasting about 20 minutes on Wednesday, the North Korean delegation "walked out," said a South Korean Defense Ministry official.

The talks ended with no agreement on an agenda for a meeting of more senior officers or even a date for another working-level meeting.

The two Koreas, however, are considering holding Red Cross talks so they can resume reunions of families separated on the peninsula for decades.

Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said Seoul on Wednesday responded to the North’s request to resume dialogue on humanitarian issues.

Lee said the notification does not mean that the two Red Cross societies will actually hold talks, but, rather the South agrees, in principle, to the North’s suggestion that the talks should be held. Details of the meeting, she added, will be discussed as Seoul monitors the conditions of South-North relations.

The military talks had offered hope that tensions could be eased on the peninsula. But officials here say the North’s delegation rebuffed the South’s attempt to focus discussion on two lethal incidents last year.

Seoul insisted that Pyongyang apologize for the sinking of a South Korean navy ship last March and an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong island in November.

North Korea denies any connection to the explosion that sent the South Korean ship to the bottom of the Yellow Sea. It has expressed regret for the civilian casualties, but offered no apology for the shelling of Yeonpyeong.

Officials indicated the collapse of the military talks could delay Red Cross discussions.

Also Wednesday, South Korea indicated it would allow 31 North Koreans who drifted into its waters to return home. They were on a fishing boat that crossed over the sea border Saturday. They were taken to Incheon for questioning by South Korean authorities.

North Korea has demanded their return.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it will respect the “free will” of the individuals, who have not expressed any desire to defect.

The two Koreas have no diplomatic relations. After a devastating three-year civil war in the early 1950’s a truce - but not a peace treaty - went into effect.