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North, S. Korea Agree to Improve Communication

The nations' militaries seek to prevent accidental clashes on the maritime border.

June 04, 2004|Barbara Demick | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL — The North and South Korean militaries agreed this morning to share a radio frequency, set up a telephone hotline and exchange information about maritime activities to prevent accidental clashes along the heavily armed border.

The agreement was hashed out in an all-night meeting between one-star generals from the two nations. Along with a session last week, it marked the highest military contact between the nations since they launched a regular dialogue in 2000.

"In the past, we've made more progress in the economic area than the military," said Lee Duk Haeng, an official of South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea. "But military cooperation is necessary to move forward with economic agreements."

The measures do not address the larger issues between the estranged Koreas -- just a particular problem that arises every summer at the height of the crabbing season.

In 2002, at least four South Korean soldiers were killed in a skirmish in the crabbing grounds of the Yellow Sea, where the maritime border between the Koreas is poorly delineated. That and earlier incidents have been blamed on poor communication between the two nations' militaries.

Improved military communication is essential if the Koreas are to proceed with various joint economic ventures, especially the $180-million industrial park under development in the North Korean city of Kaesong, just across the demilitarized zone. Lee said that, hopefully, today's agreement would lead to further measures to enable the Kaesong development to go forward.

"We will be moving large numbers of people and material across the DMZ and ... we cannot do that without military cooperation," Lee said.

Experts on North Korea believe that the nation's huge military has been a reactionary force, resisting efforts by the political leadership toward opening up. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in recent years has made a number of moves to change the country's ossified communist economy by introducing private markets, floating exchange rates for the currency and salaries.

In that vein, Kim was quoted this week by North Korea's official news service extolling the virtues of profit. During a recent visit to a factory, Kim reportedly told workers that "it is very gratifying that this plant has abided by the principle of profitability," the Korea Central News Agency reported Wednesday.

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