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North, South Korean Generals Hold Face-to-Face Talks


North and South Korean generals are speaking face to face in their first formal meeting in two years. They hope to prevent misunderstandings that could spark future conflicts and to lay the groundwork for more peaceful interaction.

Two-star generals from North and South Korea sat across from each other in the historic truce village of Panmunjeom Thursday, in the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that separates the two countries.

It is their first meeting since North Korea broke off senior-level military talks two years ago, in protest over Seoul's assistance in helping several hundred North Koreans defect to the South.

Legally, North and South Korea are still technically at war with each other. Fighting in the Korean War was halted by an 1953 armistice - not a permanent peace treaty - three years after the North launched a surprise invasion of the South.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and President Bush have both stated a desire to eventually replace that armistice with what they call a "peace regime." Park Chan-bong, a deputy minister at Seoul's Ministry of Unification, says North-South military talks are a crucial first step towards that goal.

"What we are talking about is to improve security cooperation and how to build confidence with each other in terms of military and security cooperation," said Park. "We have to transform this armistice relationship towards a more stable and more lasting relationship."

The two-day military talks are expected to focus on ways to prevent accidental naval clashes in waters west of the South Korean part of the peninsula. The two navies have fought at least twice in the last seven years, killing six South Koreans and an unknown number of North Korean sailors.

South Korean authorities say they also are seeking North Korean security guarantees to aid the opening of railways connecting the North and South. The flow of commercial traffic between the two sides has increased significantly since a historic 2000 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.

Mr. Kim has expressed a desire to use newly connected railway lines to travel to the North for a follow-up meeting with the North Korean leader this June.

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