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North Korea holds rare UN talks

File image of North and South Korean soldiers at the border village of Panmunjom
The talks, the first since 2002, come amid high tension on the peninsula

North Korea and the US-led United Nations Command in South Korea have held rare military talks on border tensions.

The meeting, which lasted just over 30 minutes, was the first in seven years.

The two sides discussed ways to ease tensions and agreed to further talks, a UN Command statement said.

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

It also took place amid international concern that North Korea could be planning to test-fire a long-range missile.

Joint exercise

A UNC statement said both sides "discussed measures to reduce tensions and introduce transparency".

"The UNC welcomed this discussion with North Korea which holds the prospect for building trust and preventing misunderstandings between both sides," it quoted delegation chief, US Air Force Major General Johnny Weida, as saying.

An undated photo of North Korean missile test

South Korea's Yonhap news agency, meanwhile, said that the North used the talks to criticise a planned US-South Korea military exercise.

The UNC has officially remained in place to help defend the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean war and the partitioning of the Korean peninsula.

A 4km-wide (2.5 mile) buffer strip known as the demilitarised zone (DMZ) divides the two Koreas, and 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.

South Korean and North Korean military officials have held talks several times in recent years at Panmunjom, 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.

The Associated Press quoted a UN command spokesman, Kim Yong-kyu, as saying the talks had been hastily arranged after the North's request.

Rising tensions

On Saturday, North Korea sent a statement to South Korea's military accusing US forces of "behaving arrogantly" and threatening "resolute counter-action".

The statement alleged that US forces trespassed across the border line inside the demilitarised zone. South Korea denied those claims.

Fears of a border clash have grown in recent months after the North scrapped all peace accords with the South and warned of war.

Concerns have also risen since the North's leader, Kim Jong-il, suffered what appeared to be a debilitating stroke last year.

He has since returned to active rule, issuing a series of bellicose statements, but fears remain about any plans for a successor.

Recent weeks have also been dominated by reports of preparations by the North for a rocket launch. Pyongyang says it plans to launch a satellite, but its neighbours think it may be planning to test the Taepodong-2 long-range missile.

The new US envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, is due to visit Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul this week to discuss ways to deter the North from the missile launch and persuade it to restart stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

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