2 Koreas Talk At DMZ To Ease Tensions Since Attack

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Military officers from North and South Korea held talks inside the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone on Tuesday in the rivals' first official dialogue since the North's deadly artillery barrage of a South Korean island in November.

Tensions on the divided peninsula rose sharply following the attack, which killed four people and came just eight months after the sinking of a South Korean warship killed 46 sailors. The South has blamed the sinking on a North Korean torpedo attack, but Pyongyang has steadfastly denied involvement.

Colonels from the two Koreas met Tuesday in the border village of Panmunjom to set a date and work out logistics for higher-level defense talks aimed at discussing the two attacks last year, according to South Korea's Defense Ministry.

If officers are able to agree on a meeting of defense chiefs, it would be the first such high-level defense meeting between the Koreas in more than three years.

"Can (the talks) go well today?" Col. Moon Sang-kyun, the chief South Korean delegate, asked his North Korean counterpart while shaking his hand, according to footage provided by the state-run Defense Media Agency.

Ri Son Kwon replied: "Yes, they will go well."

No independent journalists were allowed to cover the meeting and no details of the results were made public. The two sides will talk again on Wednesday.

The talks were arranged as North Korea pushes for dialogue after weeks of threatening war. Pyongyang wants to return to stalled six-nation talks on ending its nuclear weapons program in return for economic aid and other incentives. But South Korea and the U.S. say the North must first exhibit sincerity in its promises to disarm - and take responsibility for the two attacks - before the talks can resume.

Meanwhile, North Korea's Red Cross demanded 31 North Koreans who are being held in South Korea be quickly released, South Korea's Red Cross said in a statement. The North Koreans' motorboat crossed the Koreas' western sea border.

The two Koreas technically remain in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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Associated Press writer Haeran Hyun contributed to this report.
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