U.N. Command, North Korea discuss forming group to study ship sinking
July 23, 2010
SEOUL — Officials from North Korea and the American-led United Nations Command held a second round of talks Friday to discuss forming a joint investigation group to study the sinking of a South Korean ship, according to a U.N. Command statement.
The creation of a Joint Assessment Group could open the door for North Korean officials to come into South Korea as part of the investigation, said U.N. Command spokesman David Oten.
Both sides tentatively agreed to another colonel-level meeting for Thursday to discuss specific proposals for the group, such as its composition and when it would meet, according to the statement. Rules for a Joint Assessment Group are laid out in the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War hostilities.
The meeting at Panmunjom — which lasted an hour and 40 minutes — was the second since the explosion that caused the Cheonan to split in half and sink on March 26. A South Korean-led investigation contended that a North Korean torpedo sank the ship, killing 46 crewmembers. North Korea has repeatedly denied its involvement. The U.S. announced Wednesday that it will implement new sanctions against North Korea aimed at hurting the assets of its leadership.
The U.N. Command notified North Korea of the upcoming Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise, set for Aug. 16-26, the statement said. The annual exercise will include South Korean and U.S. troops on the peninsula, as well as an additional 3,000 U.S. troops from outside the country, Oten said.
Because of the Cheonan sinking, this year’s Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise will be led by U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Walter Sharp, who also heads the U.N. Command.
A South Korean general was supposed to lead this year’s exercise in preparation for the transfer of wartime operational control — or OPCON — from the U.S. to South Korea, which until recently had been scheduled for April 2012. A South Korean general has lead the previous two exercises.
Because of the Cheonan sinking, Sharp decided to lead the upcoming Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise following what a spokesperson called a “coordinated decision” between the two countries. The U.S. and South Korea agreed in June to delay the OPCON transfer until December 2015.