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South Korea seeks military talks with North Korea next month

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SEOUL (AFP): South Korea Wednesday called for preliminary military talks with North Korea next month, in what would be their first dialogue since the North's deadly bombardment of a border island last November.

The two sides last week agreed in principle to hold high-level military talks to ease months of high tensions sparked by the shelling and by the sinking of a South Korean warship last March.

Seoul's defence ministry said it sent a message to the North suggesting a working-level meeting on February 11 at the border village of Panmunjom, to set the date and agenda for higher-level military talks.

The proposal came as US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg arrived to brief South Korea on last week's Washington summit, at which the US and Chinese leaders expressed concern over heightened tensions on the peninsula.

The Panmunjom meeting would be the first since the North shelled a South Korean border island on November 23, killing four people including civilians.

Seoul also accuses its neighbour of torpedoing a warship last March with the loss of 46 lives, a charge it denies.

At the working-level talks, the South said it will demand that the North take "responsible measures" to account for the attacks on the warship and on Yeonpyeong island, and pledge not to repeat them.

The North has said only that it wants to discuss its "viewpoint" on the incidents.

The South's unification ministry in a statement Wednesday urged Pyongyang to hold separate nuclear talks with Seoul to confirm its willingness for denuclearisation.

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