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2 Koreas to hold military talks Monday

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[October 25, 2008]  SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea accepted a North Korean proposal to hold military talks, a Defense Ministry official said Saturday, amid continuing tensions on the divided peninsula.

Ties between the two countries, which are still technically at war, have soured since South Korea's pro-U.S. conservative president, Lee Myung-bak, took office in February with a pledge to get tough with North Korea.

In protest, North Korea suspended reconciliation talks and threatened to cut any remaining relations if Seoul continues a policy of "reckless confrontation."

But South Korea, which denied this past week it had taken a hard-line stance toward the North, agreed to a meeting Monday inside the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula, the South Korean official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The move came a day after North Korea proposed the talks involving lieutenant colonel-grade officers to discuss military communication lines between the two Koreas.

Earlier this month, the two sides failed to make any progress in colonel-level talks - their first official contact since Lee took office.

During that meeting, the North lodged a strong complaint over leaflets critical of its leader, Kim Jong Il, sent over the border via balloon by private activists in South Korea. North Korea threatened to expel South Koreans working at joint projects in the North if the propaganda did not stop.

The two Koreas agreed in 2004 to end decades of fierce propaganda battles which often used leaflets and messages over powerful loudspeakers near their border denouncing the other side.

Also Saturday, North Korea stepped up its hostile rhetoric against South Korea.

"If someone commits provocations against (the North), it will not miss an opportunity but resolutely respond to confrontation with confrontation and war with war and mercilessly punish the aggressors," the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary from the country's official Korean Central News Agency.

The 1950-53 war between the two Koreas ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula technically still at war.

[Associated Press; By KWANG-TAE KIM]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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