Koreas open high-level military talks

North Korea on Thursday demanded an end to South Korea's military exercises with the United States, as high-level inter-Korean military talks got under way for the first time in nearly two years.

North Korea routinely criticizes the South's drills with U.S. troops as Washington's rehearsals to attack the communist state, a charge Washington denies. The issue was a main reason that the North earlier cited in boycotting military talks with the South.

"They raised the issue in a principled manner in an opening speech," South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok told reporters in Seoul. "But I don't think it will act as an obstacle to the talks."

Two-star generals from the rival Koreas were leading this week's talks that opened at the border truce village of Panmunjeom inside the Demilitarized Zone earlier Thursday. The meeting was the third of its kind and the first since June 2004.

The talks had originally been set to take place between one-star generals. But the North last week requested that the rank of the head delegates be upgraded to two-star officers, making the talks the highest-ranking military contact between the North and South since the Korean War.

South Korean officials believe the North's proposal to raise the rank of officers involved bodes well for the talks as they see it as a sign of its willingness to negotiate.

"The hike in the rank of the chief delegates can be interpreted as meaning that the North must have felt the talks are more important," Lee said.

In their opening speech, South Korea proposed an agenda including seeking ways to prevent naval skirmishes along the western sea border, where the two sides have clashed before, and setting up joint fishing zones there, according to pool reports, reports the AP.

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