SEOUL, South Korea – High-level military officials from North Korea and the U.S.-led U.N. Command held urgent talks at the border Monday amid heightened tensions in the region and concerns that the North intends to fire a long-range missile.
The talks at the village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas — the first meeting between general-level military officials since 2002 — were hastily arranged after the North proposed such a meeting last week, U.N. command spokesman Kim Yong-kyu said.
"These talks can be useful in building trust and preventing misunderstanding as well as introducing transparency regarding the intentions of both sides," the U.N. command said in a statement.
Kim said his office would disclose details about the meeting only after it was over.
Tensions have intensified in recent weeks amid reports that North Korea is preparing to test a long-range missile believed capable of reaching U.S. territory.
The North last week called its plans a peaceful bid to push its space program forward by sending a communications satellite into orbit and warned it would punish anyone who attempts to disrupt its launch plan.
Neighboring governments believe the satellite claim may be a cover for a missile launch. The U.S., South Korea and other neighboring nations have warned North Korea against firing either a missile and a satellite, saying both would invite international sanctions. North Korea is banned from engaging in any ballistic missile activity under a U.N. Security Council resolution.
The U.N. command is headed Gen. Walter Sharp, who leads 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea. The U.N. Command oversees the 1953 cease-fire that ended the fighting during the three-year Korean War.
North Korea has long maintained that the U.N. Command is irrelevant and a thinly veiled U.S. effort to claim international legitimacy for its forces in Korea.
Although other nations contributed forces during the Korean War, U.S. troops are the only combat forces left on the peninsula apart from the South Korean military.