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South Korean Defense Minister to Make Historic Visit to North

South Korea has announced it will include its minister of defense in an entourage traveling to North Korea for their summit meeting next month. This will be the first such defense visit since the end of the Korean War in 1953. VOA's Kurt Achin has more on the story from Seoul.

South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung announced the list of those who will join President Roh Moo-hyun next month in Pyongyang for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Lee says Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo will attend with other cabinet level officials at the summit, scheduled from October 2 - 4.

No South Korean defense minister has ever traveled to North Korea. When the two countries held their historic first and only summit in 2000, the South Korean defense minister stayed behind.

North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, igniting a three-year war, which ended in a temporary armistice. That agreement has been the cornerstone of a tense detente in the decades since. But with no formal peace treaty, the two sides remain technically at war.

Despite warming North-South ties after the 2000 summit, occasional flashpoints do arise. Shots were exchanged briefly last month across the heavily armed border separating North and South.

The two sides have also had several deadly naval clashes in waters west of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has always rejected the maritime border at the heart of those clashes, set by the United Nations in 1953.

There is speculation that this border dispute may be on the negotiating table since the South Korean defense minister is attending the summit.

South Korea's main opposition party, whose candidate is a front-runner to replace Mr. Roh when he steps down next year, have warned him to leave the maritime border off the summit agenda. Conservative critics of the Roh administration say it too easily makes concessions to Pyongyang, which repaid the gestures by conducting its first nuclear weapon test last year.

Kim Tae-woo, an analyst at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul, says bringing the defense chief to next month's summit may help assuage critics' concerns.

He says the Defense Ministry is dead set against renegotiating the North-South maritime border until there is better military confidence between the two sides. Including Kim Jang-soo at the summit, he says, may make it less likely the border will be discussed.

South Korean officials have revealed almost no details about the upcoming summit's agenda, fueling speculation in South Korea's media.

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