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PANMUNJOM, South Korea — North Korea snubbed the U.N. Command on Wednesday, making good on a promise to boycott a weekly meeting among those at staff officer levels.

U.N. Command officials said the move is disappointing because the meetings are to help decrease tension on the peninsula.

The North Korean People’s Army announced last week it would stop attending the meetings for the first time in seven months.

The meetings are the lowest category of three that can go up to general-level talks. But U.S. military officials say the sessions are important and can diffuse misunderstandings.

“This is not unusual that they don’t come to a meeting,” said Steve Oertwig, U.N. Command spokesman. “But we welcome any chance to have open dialogue with them.”

Other officials agreed. “Dialogue is better than no dialogue,” said a U.N. Command official. “Contact is better than no contact.”

The Wednesday meetings — which usually last 45 minutes to an hour — focus on tour scheduling and maintenance at Panmunjom.

But U.N. Command and North Korean officials also use the forum to discuss larger issues, such as armistice violations and training activities by U.S., South and North Korean militaries.

Those discussions don’t result in major policy changes, U.N officials said, but do frequently let both factions vent their concerns with each other’s actions. For instance, North Korea recently complained at a Wednesday meeting about Foal Eagle/RSOI, a massive field and computer-simulated war game that practices the defense of South Korea. In response, U.N. officials mentioned North Korea’s four-month winter training cycle.

The Wednesday meetings always have been touch-and-go. After more than year of not meeting, North Korea agreed to resume them following general-officer talks on Aug. 6, 2002.

The two sides agreed that dialogue and increased contact could help avoid future conflicts and the Wednesday meetings began again.

The U.N. Command also gave North Korea a fax machine and installed a hot line. Later, officials said, they even sent someone across the border to fix the fax machine after North Korea’s unpredictable electricity supply caused it to break.

North Korea generally respects the Demilitarized Zone, which separates militaries on both sides, but periodically tests its limits.

Two weeks ago, for example, North Korea soldiers teetered on and briefly crossed the Military Demarcation Line at Panmunjom, a raised concrete line that is the official border in the DMZ’s middle. Technically, it’s an armistice violation — one that points to North Korea’s distaste for the 50-year-old agreement that stopped the Korean War but persists today as the only document halting hostilities.

The soldiers were trimming bushes.

Tension has increased with North Korea’s ongoing attempts to restart its nuclear reactors and recent withdrawal from a nuclear non-proliferation pact — moves some analysts have said may signal the communist nation’s determination to develop nuclear weapons.

North Korea’s alleged launch of an anti-ship missile Tuesday — U.S. officials confirmed the launch but South Korean officials denied it — would be the third since February.

Those incidents bookended a North Korean intercept of a U.S. reconnaissance plane March 2. North Korean MiG fighters came within 50 feet of an RC-135S, which was flying about 150 miles off the communist country’s eastern coast.


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