February 22, 2010 / 2:36 AM / 10 years ago

North Korea seeks military talks with rival South

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il (C) poses as he visits the Hwanghae Iron and Steel Complex in Songnim in north Hwanghae province, south of Pyongyang in this picture released by the North's KCNA news agency on February 21, 2010. REUTERS/KCNA

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has proposed holding military talks with the South next week after it raised tension on the troubled peninsula last week by warning it would hold live-fire drills near the border with its rival.

North Korea is apparently using military threats against U.S. ally South Korea to strengthen its hand to win concessions from regional powers as it appears ready to return to international talks on ending its nuclear arms programme, analysts said.

South Korea’s Defence Ministry said it received a request from the North on Monday for talks on March 2 related to the passage of people and material to a joint factory park located in the North’s border city of Kaesong. The South has yet to respond.

North Korea last week said it would be firing from four spots on its west coast and two on its east coast from Saturday through Monday. It has yet to launch artillery.

Recent military talks have focussed on a sea border off the west coast set unilaterally by U.S.-led U.N. forces at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War and declared invalid by the North.

North Korea last month opened fire near that border, drawing return volleys from the South. The exchange resulted in no injuries or damage but spooked investors, prompting temporary dips in Seoul stock markets and the South Korean won.

The North has come under pressure to take a more conciliatory path and return to six-country nuclear talks due to U.N. sanctions imposed after a May 2009 nuclear test that have dealt a blow to its wobbly economy and a botched currency move late last year that sparked inflation and rare civil unrest.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Christine Kim; Editing by Ken Wills

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