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By Jack Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea on Wednesday expressed regret that its release of water into a river that flows across a military border with the South killed six campers downstream last month, a rare admission of fault by the reclusive state.
The North also promised to provide warnings ahead of large-scale water releases at inter-Korean talks aimed at preventing flooding on the Imjin River, which flows between the two states and is heavily dammed by the North.
The reclusive North agreed to the talks after it fired five short-range missiles off its east coast on Monday, in a move seen by analysts as an attempt to boost its bargaining position ahead of expected talks on ending its nuclear weapons programme.
"North Korea has expressed regret that there were unexpected human casualties in the South as a result of the Imjin River incident and expressed condolences to the families," a South Korean Unification Ministry official told reporters.
"The government considers the position expressed by the North as an apology," the official said.
The North side said the release of water was unavoidable to prevent greater damage, but did not elaborate on what the perceived imminent danger was, the official said.
Six people including a child were swept away by a surge of water in the middle of the night in early September while camping on the banks of the Imjin, a major waterway that flows across the Demilitarised Zone border.
The North has built several dams on the river including one a few kilometres north of the heavily armed buffer between the two states, which have yet to sign a formal peace treaty to end the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korea has long sought the North's cooperation in flood control and setting up warning systems, but Pyongyang has been reluctant to join such efforts.
The working-level contact in Kaesong came as news reports said the North may be preparing to fire a fresh barrage of short-range missiles.
(Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Alex Richardson)