Seoul (AFP) Dec 3, 2008
South Korean troops are on guard against any military provocation by North Korea after the communist state ordered a border clampdown amid worsening ties, the defence ministry said Wednesday.
The North on Monday imposed strict border controls and ordered the expulsion of hundreds of South Koreans working at the Kaesong joint industrial estate, in protest at what it calls the Seoul government's confrontational policy.
It also halted a cross-border cargo rail service and a popular day tour.
"In response to the North's December 1 measure, surveillance and control operations are being stepped up against (any) naval attacks and attempts to kidnap fishing boats," the ministry said.
Special training programmes are also being implemented to cope with "contingencies" along the heavily fortified land border, it said in a report to parliament.
Some analysts believe the North may provoke a limited clash around the disputed border in the Yellow Sea, the scene of bloody naval battles in 1999 and 2002.
The ministry report also said the North in 2007 deployed new ballistic missiles with a range of 2,500-4,000 km (1,562-2,500 miles). It was building up ground forces including tanks, artillery and special warfare troops.
A defence ministry spokesman declined to elaborate on the missiles.
The report also accused the North of breaching or failing to honour most military agreements reached between the two sides, who have remained technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended only in an armistice.
Ties have worsened since a conservative government came to office in Seoul in February, after 10 years of liberal rule marked by a "sunshine" policy of engagement and generous aid to the North.
The new government linked major economic aid to progress in the North's denuclearisation, a stance which enraged Pyongyang.
North Korea is also angry at propaganda leaflets floated by activists across the border. The activists Wednesday released 10 huge gas-filled balloons carrying a total of 100,000 leaflets, the second such launch in as many days.
"Down with the Kim Jong-Il dictatorship!" read a slogan on one.
The unification ministry, which handles cross-border ties, appealed again for a halt to the launches "in consideration of the current inter-Korean situation." It says it has no legal power to ban them.
Also unhappy at the balloons are owners of Kaesong factories, which face an uncertain future. The North has ordered hundreds of South Koreans to leave the Seoul-funded estate and now permits only 880 of them to work there, half the number which Seoul says are needed.
Some 35,000 North Koreans earning about 70 dollars a month work for 88 South Korean light industrial firms at the estate just north of the border.
Raw materials are trucked northwards and the finished products transported southwards across the border -- a process complicated by the much-reduced opening hours and other curbs.
Factory representatives Wednesday urged the Seoul government to stop the balloon launches.
"Some leaflets fell on a factory roof and there was a misunderstanding they were spread by South Korean staff there," said one businessman quoted by Yonhap news agency.
"We appeal to the government to take action to stop the spreading of leaflets, which serve no purpose but to heighten tension."
earlier related report
"When we get to verification we want to have a clear roadmap of how verification is being done," Christopher Hill told reporters after arriving at his hotel from Tokyo.
He was to meet on Thursday with North Korean officials, including his counterpart Kim Kye-Gwan, but the time of the talks had not been finalised, a US embassy spokesman said Wednesday.
Hill landed in Singapore after meeting earlier Wednesday with his Japanese counterpart Akitaka Saiki as well as South Korean nuclear envoy Kim Sook.
Kim Kye-Gwan, the communist North's envoy, arrived in Singapore late Tuesday.
The United States and North Korea differ on what was agreed when Hill made a trip to Pyongyang from October 1-3 to try to save a shaky February 2007 disarmament deal.
After reaching an apparent agreement on verification procedures, the US announced it would drop the North from a terrorism blacklist, and the North reversed plans to restart its plutonium-producing nuclear plants.
However, North Korea, which tested an atomic weapon in October 2006, insists it never agreed to samples of atomic material being taken away.
It says the outside verification of its nuclear inventory, submitted in June, will involve only field visits, confirmation of documents and interviews with technicians.
"We don't want a situation where, when we get to verification, there is some misunderstanding on what we agreed to," Hill told reporters in Singapore.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a meeting in Beijing between all six nations involved in talks on the North's nuclear programme aims to finalise a plan allowing for outside verification of Pyongyang's disarmament.
Rice said the meeting would take place on Monday, although host Beijing has yet to announce a date for the talks.
Hill and the negotiators from Japan and South Korea agreed Wednesday to try to get Pyongyang to commit on paper to a framework for verifying its nuclear disarmament.
"There should be no room for misunderstanding or distortion when we actually begin verification," Saiki told a news conference.
"The six parties must agree to specify exactly what we are supposed to do in the form of documents," he said. "We have agreed on this basic point."
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NKorean nuclear envoy in Singapore for expected talks with US
Singapore (AFP) Dec 2, 2008
North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator arrived in Singapore Tuesday night ahead of an expected meeting with his US counterpart to clear apparent hurdles in a deal over the North's nuclear weapons programmes.
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