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Asia

North Korea delays talks on warship

North Korea has abruptly called off talks with the US-led United Nations Command over the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

A giant offshore crane salvages the South Korean naval ship Cheonan

A giant offshore crane salvages the South Korean naval ship Cheonan

The announcement of the delay came on Tuesday less than an hour before the talks were to begin at the border village of Panmunjom. The UN Command said in a statement the North's army representatives requested a delay "for administrative reasons". No new time has been set.

A joint team of investigators involving military officers and civilian experts from the South, the United States and Sweden in May accused the North of launching a torpedo attack on the South Korean warship Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.

Military officers from North Korea and the UN Command that oversees the Korean War truce were to meet at the Korean border of Panmunjom to discuss the sinking of the ship. It would have been the first meeting since the sinking on March 26, which sharply raised tension on the divided Korean peninsula.

The talks were supposed to take place in the border village of Panmunjom

The talks were supposed to take place in the border village of Panmunjom

Diplomatic tussles

The North denies it was involved in the sinking and has accused the South of masterminding a fabrication for political gain. On Friday, the UN Security Council in a statement condemned the attack but did not directly blame the North, apparently in a concession to China, a permanent member and North Korea's only ally. North Korea celebrated the statement as a diplomatic victory.

"Problems on the Korean peninsula can only be resolved through the peaceful methods of talks and negotiation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang told a regular news briefing in Beijing on Tuesday. "A war of words, or even using military means, cannot fundamentally resolve the issues".

The two allies US and South Korea have planned a naval exercise as a show of strength following the attack in March. The location has not been decided. It was originally planned for the Yellow Sea, but this caused strong protests from China. Observers have pointed out that North Korea's decision to put off the Cheonan talks could be related to its dismay about the war games.

jb/Reuters/AFP/AP
Editor: Grahame Lucas 

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