2 Mar 2009

North Korea holds rare talks with UN

10:17 pm on 2 March 2009

North Korea and the American-led United Nations Command in South Korea have opened military talks aimed at easing border tensions.

It is their first such meeting in more than six years, the UN Command said.

The meeting of generals, held at the border village of Panmunjom, comes two days after the North warned American troops to stop "provocations" on the border.

International concern has risen in recent weeks amid fears North Korea is planning to test-fire a missile.

The UN Command described the new military talks as a "positive" move, and said the North had requested the meeting "to discuss tension reduction."

"These talks can be useful in building trust and preventing misunderstanding as well as introducing transparency regarding the intentions of both sides," it said.

The UN command has officially remained in place to help defend the South, since the 1950-53 Korean war in which a US-led UN force fought for South Korea against North Korea, which had support from China.

It is led by US General Walter Sharp. The US stations 28,500 troops in South Korea to back up the South's 680,000-strong military against the North's 1.1 million troops.

A 4km-wide buffer strip known as the Demilitarised Zone divides the peninsula.

South Korean and North Korean military officials have held talks several times in recent years at Panmunjom inside the zone, most recently in October 2008, with no result.

The UN Command said Monday's talks were the first at general level between it and the North since 2002.