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Warning, Apology Mark Week of Mixed Signals from North Korea


Warning, Apology Mark Week of Mixed Signals from North Korea
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North Korea is accusing the South of sending warships into its waters and says a clash may result. That warning comes during a week of North-South dialogue, in which Pyongyang offered a rare apology to the South for a flooding incident, last month.

The North Korean Central News Agency carried a statement from the country's Naval command, Thursday, accusing South Korea of sending warships into the North's territorial waters at least 10 times this week. The statement describes the South's alleged actions as "premeditated moves to deliberately escalate tension in the waters."

Pyongyang goes on to say what it calls "the reckless military provocations" threaten to prompt a naval clash.

South Korean military officials are bluntly dismissing the accusations, saying they have no truth whatsoever.

North and South Korea remain technically at war, with only a 1953 armistice pausing the three-year war that followed North Korea's invasion of the South.

The two sides have fought deadly naval clashes in 1999 and 2002 in the disputed maritime region west of the peninsula, where the North has always rejected a sea border drawn by the United Nations.

The North's warning comes in the middle of a week of North-South talks, seen by many as a thaw between the two. On Wednesday, North Korea extended a rare apology to the South for a flood it unleashed last month. Six South Koreans were killed when the North opened the gates to a dam near the border, flooding the banks of a river shared by both sides.

Many analysts view the seemingly mixed messages as part of a negotiating pattern by the North.

Kim Tae-woo is a North Korea analyst with the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses here in Seoul.

Kim says North Korea's timing on the warning is part of the North's unique zig-zag strategy. He says, on the one side, Pyongyang calls for talks; but, on the other side, it will not come to those talks on its knees. Kim says North Korea wants to improve its negotiating hand by saying it will not be coming to talks with its head head low.

North and South Korea have another day of talks scheduled for Friday, at the border-straddling village of Panmunjeom. The two are expected to discuss possible reunions for tens of thousands of families separated by the 1950's fighting.