North delegates abruptly leave Korea defense talks

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korean military officers abruptly walked out of the first official talks with rival South Korea in months Wednesday, dashing hopes for eased tensions after a deadly artillery attack in November increased war rhetoric on the peninsula.

The cause of the rupture wasn't immediately explained. Seoul's Defense Ministry said the North Korean delegation got up and walked out on the second day of talks in Panmunjom inside the heavily fortified buffer zone dividing the Koreas.

Hopes had been high that the Koreas would agree on details for holding their first high-level defense talks in more than three years.

However, they failed to set a date for the next meeting, a Defense Ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

During Tuesday's talks, South Korea argued the high-level talks must focus on two attacks against it last year, while the North Koreans demanded the talks discuss other military issues as well, South Korea's Defense Ministry said in a statement.

South Korea blames the North for a warship sinking last March that killed 46 sailors, though North Korea flatly denies its involvement. The tensions sharply escalated further in November when the North launched an artillery barrage on a front-line South Korean island, killing four people.

In recent weeks, however, the North had pushed for talks with the South, including a military meeting.

At Tuesday's talks, South Korea demanded the high-level talks involve defense chiefs or joint chiefs of staff chairmen while the North wants a vice ministerial-level meeting, the Defense Ministry said.

One area of agreement was reuniting families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

"The government has sufficiently shared the view on the urgency and importance of humanitarian issues, including the reunions of separated families," Unificiation Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo told reporters in Seoul.

The talks came amid concerns about North Korea's expanded nuclear capability. South Korea says the North's newly disclosed uranium enrichment program violates disarmament pacts and U.N. resolutions.

On Wednesday, North Korean state media accused South Korea of trying to take the uranium issue to the U.N. Security Council, which it said would only damage relations.

"This would only end up obstructing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and escalating the prevailing confrontation," the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

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