S.Korea, Japan step up talks on military accord

South Korea said Tuesday it is close to signing agreements on military cooperation with Japan, the first such accords since Tokyo's brutal colonial rule over Korea ended in 1945.

One pact would let the two nations share intelligence on North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes and carry out joint sea search and rescue operations, Seoul's defence ministry said.

The other allows for cooperation in logistics, excluding weapons, and service in peacekeeping operations abroad.

"We've been discussing dates and agenda with a view to (signing the agreements at) the end of this month," said ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok.

The two nations said no decision had been made on the signing date. Seoul's defence ministry said the military agreements would be the country's first with Japan.

In Tokyo, a Japanese defence ministry spokesman said talks on signing the accords had been speeded up.

"The defence ministers of the two countries agreed last year to go ahead with an agreement on protecting military secrets and providing mutual support in military equipment," he said.

"We are accelerating talks toward signing the accord. But details such as when to sign it have yet to be decided."

Spokesman Kim denied the North's failed rocket launch last month had added momentum. But regional tensions are high following Pyongyang's suspected preparations for a nuclear test and its threats to Seoul.

The North has threatened "sacred war" against the South in retaliation for perceived insults during Pyongyang's commemoration in April of the centenary of the birth of founding leader Kim Il-Sung.

Older people in both Koreas still have bitter memories of Japan's harsh colonial rule over the Korean peninsula from 1910-45.

South Korea and Japan are also involved in a prickly territorial dispute over rocky islets claimed by both sides in the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

A Seoul analyst said military accords with Japan would spark strong opposition from China and North Korea.

"China would consider it as an expansion of (the US-led) alliance in the Northeast Asian region," Baek Seung-Joo, of the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses, told AFP.

"South Korea also faces unfavourable public opinion at home over any military agreements with Japan, regardless of their contents," he said.

"But such pacts fit the US policy of strengthening bilateral alliances among its own allies."

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