NKorea calls for joint investigation with US into ship sinking that killed 46 SKorean sailors

By Kwang-tae Kim, AP
Thursday, September 16, 2010

NKorea calls for probe with US into ship sinking

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said it proposed Thursday a joint probe with the United States of the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship that an earlier international investigation blamed on Pyongyang.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Pyongyang made the offer during military talks with the U.S.-led U.N. Command in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean peninsula.

A South Korea-led international team of investigators has concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank the warship Cheonan in March, killing 46 South Korean sailors. North Korea denies any involvement.

The sinking has raised tensions on the peninsula, which remains in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The North has previously demanded its own investigators be allowed to visit South Korea to examine the evidence. Seoul has rejected the North’s requests.

KCNA said Thursday’s proposal for a joint probe with the U.N. command covered naming the inspection group, defining the rank and number of members of the group and to “start the investigation as early as possible.”

The two sides agreed to meet again around Sept. 28, it said.

The U.N. command — which oversees the cease-fire — issued a brief statement on the meeting that did not comment directly on the North’s proposal. It said the two sides agreed to hold another colonel-level meeting again at a date to be determined.

Seoul, meanwhile, was considering whether to accept a proposal from Pyongyang to hold the first military talks between the two Koreas since October 2008.

The North wants to meet next week to discuss the maritime border and anti-North Korean leafletting by activists, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

South Korean activists and defectors regularly send leaflets across the heavily armed frontier in a campaign to urge North Koreans to rise up against leader Kim Jong Il.

While the situation on the peninsula remains tense after the warship sinking, South Korean provincial government and civic groups said they sent 530 tons of flour to North Korea on Thursday to help ease food shortages in the North, which is reeling from flooding and devastation from a recent typhoon.

The South Korean Red Cross also announced plans to send 5,000 tons of rice, 10,000 tons of cement, medicine and other items to help the North recover from heavy flooding in its northwest.

An estimated 80,000-90,000 people were affected by the flooding.

There is speculation that the flooding has prompted North Korea to postpone a rare political meeting believed aimed at promoting a son of leader Kim Jong Il.

State media reported last week that Workers’ Party delegates were gathering in Pyongyang to elect new party leaders in what would be the communist party’s biggest meeting in 30 years. Analysts believe Kim, 68, will use the conference to give his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, a key party position as part of plans to groom him as his successor.

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