Two Koreas hold first military talks since 2008

South and North Korea began their first military talks for two years Thursday to try to ease tensions heightened by a naval disaster near their disputed sea border, Seoul’s defence ministry said.

Officers from the two sides met at the truce village of Panmunjom after the North had accepted the South’s revised date for the meeting.

The North had proposed talks to discuss the dispute over the Yellow Sea borderline and the issue of anti-Pyongyang leaflets floated across the frontier by activists.

The South said the agenda should include the North’s alleged responsibility for the deadly sinking of one of Seoul’s warships in March.

Seoul “will focus on the warship sinking and tensions along the sea border, while demanding North Korea stop slandering our side,” a defence ministry spokesman said Wednesday.

Relations have been frosty since a conservative government took office in Seoul in February 2008 and conditioned major assistance on progress in the North’s nuclear disarmament.

Ties worsened dramatically after the South accused the North of torpedoing the corvette the Cheonan in March with the loss of 46 lives.

The North denied involvement and threatened retaliation for a series of naval exercises staged off South Korea as a show of strength.