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(2nd LD) N. Korea resumes shooting, agrees to help recover U.S. war remains

All Headlines 11:51 January 28, 2010

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with briefing, background; TRIMS)

SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) -- North Korea resumed shooting Thursday near its maritime border with South Korea, while proposing talks to the United Nations Command to resume work to find the remains of U.S. soldiers who fought in the Korean War.

The contradictory moves of shooting and proposing talks confound South Korea and the United States.

North Korea watchers in Seoul speculate that Pyongyang's latest provocative gesture may be part of its attempts to pressure the United States and South Korea to respond to its peace treaty proposal by emphasizing that the peninsula is still a war zone. The two Koreas remain technically at war since their 1950-53 war ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

North Korea began to shoot toward the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong from 8:10 a.m. Thursday, with all of the shells landing in the North's own waters north of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said. The shooting comes a day after Pyongyang fired as many as 100 shells near the NLL, the de facto inter-Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea.

South Korea, which had responded with about 100 warning shots Wednesday, said it will not fire more shots unless the North's shells cross the NLL and reach South Korean territorial waters.

"North Korea is shooting within its own waters and not even close to the NLL. We do not have a problem with that, though we are closely observing them," said Park Sung-woo, spokesperson for Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Yeonpyeong Island is located about 80 kilometers west of the northernmost end of South Korea's mainland and 12km from the North, but it lies outside the "no-sail zones" declared by the communist state on Monday.

The poorly marked maritime border is a constant source of tension between the two Koreas. Their navies engaged in a bloody skirmish in November that left one North Korean sailor dead, and they engaged in similar gunfights in 1999 and 2002 near Yeonpyeong Island.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang proposed to the U.S.-led United Nations Command to resume a joint remains recovery operation to find remains of soldiers in North Korea.

After recovering about 200 bodies of U.S. servicemen, the operation was suspended in 2005 amid conflicts over Washington's effort to end Pyongyang's ongoing nuclear ambitions. Of the 88,000 U.S. service members missing from all conflicts, more than 8,100 are from the Korean War.

North Korea expressed its will to carry out the project during working-level talks held with the U.N. Command Wednesday in Panmunjom, the truce village in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean Peninsula, according to an unnamed U.N. Command officer who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

"No further plans have been confirmed," he added.


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