Wed, May 17, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Pyongyang, Seoul military talks break down over border

AFP , SEOUL

High-level military talks between North and South Korea faltered yesterday over how to ease tensions along their disputed sea borders, a South Korean official said.

The five-member North Korean delegation did not show up for the afternoon session following a two-hour meeting in the morning, the official in charge of inter-Korean dialogue said.

The North Koreans, who had arrived for talks in Panmujom early yesterday, packed up their telecommunication equipment and computers and returned to the north, he said.

"There will be no more talks for the day and the two sides will meet again tomorrow," the official said on condition of anonymity.

At the generals' meeting, the North repeated its demand that a clearly-marked inter-Korean sea border should be drawn to replace the controversial Northern Limit Line (NLL), drawn up unilaterally by the US-led UN at the end of the war.

North Korea does not recognize the NLL and has demanded a new line be drawn further south.

"Little progress was made at today's talks, with the North insisting that the NLL issue must be discussed from square one," the South Korean official said.

"But it's too premature to predict [about how the talks will proceed] as we have two more days to talk," he said.

The military talks, the fourth since a 2000 summit, are being held to discuss ways of preventing naval clashes in the disputed Yellow Sea and to make an agreement on running cross-border train services.

Former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung wants to visit North Korea by train next month for a second meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il six years after their 2000 summit heralded a new era of inter-Korean reconciliation.

North Korea had swiftly responded to the South's proposal for yesterday's meeting, a second in two months, raising hopes that the communist country will allow former president Kim to travel to Pyongyang by railway.

Separately, a South Korean delegation crossed the inter-Korean border and visited North Korea's Mount Kumgang for talks over the planned landmark cross-border trip by Kim.

The last round of the military talks held in March got bogged down over differences concerning the border in the Yellow Sea, which was not clearly marked when the 1950-53 Korean war ended.

The rich fishing ground near the NLL was the scene of naval clashes in 1999 and 2002 that resulted in heavy casualties for both sides.

With nearly 2 million troops on both sides, the frontier remains one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints.

But as part of rapprochement efforts in recent years, railway lines and roads along both sides of the peninsula -- which were severed during the 1950-53 Korean war -- have been re-linked.

Though the roads have been opened to restricted traffic, the railway opening has been repeatedly delayed. Last week the two Koreas finally agreed to test the lines on May 25.

The absence of an agreement guaranteeing safe passage for trains and cars has been the main cause of the delay, officials said.

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