Wed, Nov 28, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Korean ministers meet to ease sea border tensions

AP AND AFP , SEOUL AND BEIJING

The defense chiefs of North and South Korea began a rare meeting yesterday aimed at easing tension across their countries' disputed sea border.

South Korean Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo flew directly from Seoul to Pyongyang yesterday for three days of talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Il-chol -- the first defense ministerial talks between the Koreas in seven years.

"The South Korean delegation deeply understands the ardent wish of all compatriots to ease military tension, build up confidence and guarantee a permanent peace between South and North Korea," the South's Kim said after arriving in Pyongyang, according to reports.

This week's talks are aimed at fleshing out agreements to foster peace and cooperation between the Koreas signed by South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last month, at only the second-ever summit between the countries.

Earlier this month, the prime ministers of the two Koreas also met and agreed to launch a cross-border train service and construction projects in the North, along with other reconciliation projects.

However, the defense talks were seen as crucial because the North's military has in the past put the brakes on burgeoning rapprochement between the two sides because of security concerns.

The Koreas remain technically at war because the Korean War ceasefire has never been replaced with a peace treaty.

Also yesterday, officials from the five nations trying to end the North's nuclear ambitions arrived in Pyongyang to observe the disablement of the country's main atomic facility, officials said.

The delegation, including senior US diplomat Sung Kim, will visit the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which is slowly being disabled in accordance with an agreement struck in February.

"We are pretty positive. I think we are making progress," Kim told journalists before departing Beijing along with officials from China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

Kim will also meet up with the team of eight US experts at Yongbyon who have been in and out of North Korea on a rotating basis since early last month as part of the inspection process, a US embassy spokeswoman in Beijing said.

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