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(LEAD) Cheonan issue "not appropriate" for ARF: N. Korean source

All Headlines 14:42 July 23, 2010

(ATTN: RECASTS throughout to add more comments, draft chairman's statement)
By Yoo Jee-ho

HANOI, July 23 (Yonhap) -- North Korea does not plan to bring up the sinking of a South Korean warship at a regional security forum under way here unless Seoul raises the issue first, a North Korean source said Friday.

The source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, claimed that the sinking is a bilateral matter unfit for discussions at the multilateral ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) under way here. ARF is Asia's largest annual security conference that brings together foreign ministers from 27 members.

The source said the sinking should be discussed at the ongoing working-level talks between the American-led United Nations Command (UNC) and North Korea's military. The two sides held a second round of working-level talks on Friday, but results of the meeting were not immediately known.

"This is a matter between the North and the South and should be resolved through inter-Korean dialogue," the source said. "It's not appropriate to mention that in this international setting," the source said.

A South Korean-led multinational probe concluded in late May that North Korea torpedoed the Cheonan on March 26, killing 46 sailors in the Yellow Sea. North Korea has denied responsibility for the sinking.

The U.N. Security Council earlier this month issued a presidential statement, condemning the attack on the ship without directly blaming North Korea.

South Korea is seeking a strong chairman's statement, similar in tone with that of the U.N. statement, at the end of the ARF session later Friday. A draft of the chairman's statement, seen by Yonhap News Agency, said the ministers "expressed deep concerns" over the sinking and "supported" the U.N. statement.

The source said North Korea would see no problem with an ARF statement similar to the U.N. statement.

"The Security Council statement never had a definitive conclusion on who was responsible," the source said, noting that North Korea also doesn't want to see worsening tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but that neither South Korea nor Washington proposed to talk with the North in Hanoi.

The source dismissed fresh financial sanctions announced by the U.S. as "ineffective," since North Korea is already facing a series of other sanctions.


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