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North, S. Korea Agree to Hold High-Level Defense Talks - 2004-05-07


In what some are calling a dramatic development, North and South Korea have agreed to hold high-level defense talks.

The agreement on joint defense talks came after the two Koreas had formally ended three days of cabinet-level talks in Pyongyang.

Media reports say the North's chief delegate, Kwon Ho Ung, during a post-meeting discussion, informed South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun that the military of the communist state agreed to hold talks with their southern counterparts.

The surprise announcement raises hopes that military tensions could ease on the divided peninsula. North Korea has the world's fifth largest military with more than a million troops.

During talks this week, Seoul pressed Pyongyang for urgent high-level military talks before the crab catching season peaks this month. The area is rich in crabs and there have been naval clashes between the two as they try to protect private fishing vessels, which can easily cross the poorly marked border.

No date has been set for the talks. The two Koreas remain technically at war, never signing a peace treaty when hostilities between them ceased in 1953 after a three-year conflict.

North Korea on Friday opened its borders to allow in South Korean aid for the victims of a deadly train explosion.

A convoy of trucks rumbled north through the demilitarized zone to deliver school supplies to the children of Ryongchon, where at least 169 people died and some 1,300 were injured in an April 22 blast.

South Korea has pledged nearly four times the combined total of aid donations from the rest of the world. But many South Koreans complain that the communist North has failed to reciprocate the generosity. Kim Tae Woo is an analyst at the Korean Institute of Defense Analysis.

"That resentment was overwhelmed by overall mood that we should help the North Koreans," he said. "North Korea is more willing to negotiate with South Korea. They are in need of help."

Meanwhile, Indonesia announced Friday that North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-Sun has accepted an invitation to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, Regional Forum in early July.

An Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman says Jakarta will facilitate sideline talks between North Korea and the five countries that have been involved in two rounds of talks to end the North Korean nuclear crisis. Those countries are the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

North Korea is scheduled to attend low level working group meetings in Beijing next week as a prelude to a planned third round of formal six-way negotiations this summer.

Tensions have been high on the Korean peninsula since October 2002. At that time, the United States said North Korea had admitted violating international agreements and was pursuing nuclear weapons development.

Washington insists that Pyongyang must verifiably and irreversibly scrap its nuclear weapons programs.

North Korea has offered to freeze development but only if the United States signs a non-aggression agreement and pledges economic aid.

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