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U.N., N. Korea agree to tame tensions

North and South Korea have a history of clashes, this one in 1999
North and South Korea have a history of clashes, this one in 1999  

SEOUL, South Korea -- The U.S.-led United Nations Command in South Korea and officials from North Korea have agreed to embark on a series of steps to prevent further clashes along the disputed sea border that separates the two Koreas.

At a meeting Tuesday, the United Nations and North Korea agreed on the need for better communication, including regular staff-level meetings, to put a lid on simmering Korean maritime tensions, a command spokeswoman, Lee Ferguson, told The Associated Press.

The talks at the truce village of Panmunjom came in the wake of a June clash between naval vessels from the two Koreas, which was their worst maritime skirmish in three years.

The neighbors are still technically at war since they never signed a peace treaty at the end of the 1950-53 Korea war. In the past few years they have clashed several times over the western sea border.

The U. N. Command is responsible for overseeing an armistice between the North and the South.

The talks -- which were the first between the two since late 2000 and took place against a flurry of diplomatic overtures by the isolationist North towards the United States, Japan and South Korea -- were described by a U.N. spokesperson as very positive.

While both Koreas traded blame over the June skirmish, North Korea's expression of regret over the incident cleared the way for high level talks between the Koreas scheduled to take place in Seoul next week.

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In a sign that the North is keen to mend frayed ties, U.S. Major General James Soligan said Tuesday's talks focusing on the Yellow Sea clash were "very positive" with a common desire expressed to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The U.N. command in Seoul said in a statement that further details will be discussed in future talks.

South Korea plans to salvage one of its patrol boats that was attacked and sunk by North Korean vessels on June 29, killing four sailors and leaving one missing and presumed dead.

The isolated and impoverished communist North said it suffered casualties, but didn't confirm a South Korean estimate that 13 Northern sailors were killed.

The U.N. Command was set up after the United Nations authorized a multinational military force to aid South Korea after it was invaded by Soviet-backed North Korea in June 1950.

The United States led and provided the bulk of U.N. troops.




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