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Top Military Officers from North, South Korea Agree to Increase Contacts

  • Kurt Achin

North and South Korean military authorities have agreed at their first face-to-face meeting in a year to set up hotlines to prevent naval clashes. The agreement was reached just days before the two Koreas are scheduled to take part in multinational talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear weapons programs.

Senior military leaders from North and South Korea met for the first time in 13 months at the border truce area of Panmunjeom. Military dialogue between the two countries was suspended last June after South Korea accused northern naval vessels of violating the Northern Limit Line - the maritime border between the two countries.

The navies of North and South Korea have exchanged fire at least twice since 1999, killing dozens of sailors. To prevent future clashes, military leaders from the two countries say they will set up liaison offices equipped with hotlines, to keep the two navies in constant contact.

Kim Dae-woo, of the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis, says the meeting is a good first step. But he says the two Koreas lack clarity over their sea border - raising the risk that stray fishing boats could provoke more military conflict.

"Northern Limit Line problems are still there," he said. "We simply defend, and North Korea simply tries to violate. So that situation has not changed."

Mr. Kim says in upcoming meetings, the North and South delegations should aim to spell out a more precise agreement on their naval boundary. The two countries are expected to hold more military talks at the North's Mount Baekdu next month.

North and South Korea also committed to implement an earlier agreement to reduce propaganda along the demilitarized zone separating the two countries.

North and South Korea remain technically at war, as fighting between the two countries was stopped by a 1953 armistice, not a formal peace treaty. They are scheduled to join China, Russia, the United States, and Japan next week in negotiations aimed at ending the North's nuclear weapons programs.

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