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Koreas Edge Toward Military Confidence

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Seoul (UPI) Aug 10, 2005
South and North Korea took a significant step toward easing military tensions Wednesday as they set up their first cross-border military hotline and conducted a trial run in an effort to avoid accidental armed clashes.

The hotline is the first direct communications linkage between the military authorities of the two Cold War rivals to prevent accidental clashes along their disputed western sea border. The two nations have only maintained cross-border telephone and fax lines between their Red Cross authorities.

"We hope this linkage would ease military tensions on the Korean peninsula and raise confidence between military authorities from the two sides," a Defense Ministry official said after a test run on the telephone and fax line with North Koreans.

The cross-border military hotline would run 24 hours a day and communication will be made at least twice a day on a regular basis using landline telephones and a fax machine, defense officials said. The two Koreas will operate the liaison offices near the border beginning Saturday for military communication.

The two Koreas are supposed to communicate with each other whenever an accident occurs along the western sea border or along the cross-border railways and adjacent road thoroughfares, defense officials said.

The poorly marked inter-Korean sea border has long been a constant source of armed conflicts between the two Koreas, particularly during crab-catching season.

In recent years, South and North Korean naval vessels have clashed at the sea border of the Northern Limit Line, around which lucrative blue crab beds lie. Tensions have risen sharply in that zone during the May-June and October-November crab seasons, when North Korean fishing boats often move into the contested waters in search of crab beds.

The NLL, a U.N.-imposed Korean maritime border established after the 1950-53 Korean War, has served as a neutral zone to avoid possible armed clashes between the two Koreas, which are technically at war.

But North Korea says it does not recognize the border, insisting on its own sea border south of the NLL and which includes South Korean islands.

The dispute led to an armed clash in June 2002 when the two Koreas traded naval gunfire that left dozens of casualties on both sides. In June 1999, they exchanged naval gunfire in the same area in which an intruding North Korean torpedo boat was sunk.

More such skirmishes could complicate international negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, which have heightened tensions on the peninsula for the past three years.

North Korean fishing boats and naval patrols still often cross into South Korean waters, with the South's navy ships occasionally responding with warning shots.

The two Korean militaries agreed last year to adopt a standard radio frequency and signaling system for their navies in an effort to prevent accidental clashes, but the system did not effectively work.

"The military hotline would serve as an effective communication channel to prevent any accidental clash in the West (Yellow) Sea," said an official at the Defense Ministry.

North and South Korea also agreed last month to set up a joint fishery zone alongside the maritime border to avoid accidental clashes. The two sides will designate the joint fishing ground around the maritime border soon after militaries from the North and the South approve the accord.

The two Koreas have also agreed to restart dismantling their remaining propaganda facilities along the 248-kilometer-long Demilitarized Zone. Under last year's agreement, both sides were required to remove loudspeakers and signboards.

But the North left intact some propaganda facilities praising its "Great Leader" Kim Jong-Il in the western section of the border, in apparent fear it goes against the North's personality cult for Kim.

The two Koreas, divided since 1945, are technically at war because their conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. Their border is the world's last Cold War flashpoint with nearly 2 million troops on both sides.

North Korea recently renewed its call for a peace regime to replace the current armistice mechanism that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, saying a peace treaty between North Korea and the United States is essential to end the three-year nuclear standoff.

It also said the peace treaty would end U.S. "hostile" policy and its nuclear threat against the communist country, leading to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. As a prelude to the peace treaty, North Korea has called for a nonaggression pact between Washington and Pyongyang.

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US Hopes For North Korea Nuclear Deal By September
Washington (AFP) Aug 10, 2005
The United States said Wednesday it hoped for a deal to end the North Korea crisis as early as September, but warned Pyongyang must make the key decision to get out of the "nuclear weapons business."

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